Mariners 1 Phoenix 0
Trent Sainsbury is sent flying. Photo: Brendan Esposito
After more than a decade, club football was back at North Sydney Oval on Thursday night. And judging by the reaction, perhaps we won’t have to wait so long until next time.
Instead of Central Coast tackling Wellington Phoenix in the oft-humdrum of Bluetongue Stadium, they did so in the convivial confines of one the state’s most storied venues.
Yes, there was even some old Northern Spirit paraphernalia on show. How long those jerseys must have been gathering dust in the cupboards of Mosman and Cammeray.
A-League: Central Coast Mariners v Wellington Phoenix
The Central Coast Mariners defeated Wellington Phoenix 1-0 at North Sydney Oval on Thursday night. Photography by Brendan Esposito. Like these photos? Go to www.fairfaxphotos.com Follow us at twitter.com/photosSMH Photo: Brendan Esposito
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Despite all the rapscallion talk of relocation and boycotts in weeks prior, the mood in the air was positive. No Mariners fan should feel threatened by the prospect of playing a match or two here every year.
Nor should owner Mike Charlesworth get too carried away by the occasion’s mild success. The final crowd of 6,755 was reasonable – certainly given the opponent and the midweek pre-Christmas date – and one which embraced the evening’s novelty value. With only 3000 needed to break even, Charlesworth earned a tidy profit.
The pitch could best be described as a fast and bouncy wicket, not least because multiple cricket pitches lurked under the venue’s grass. Fortunately, no WACA-sized cracks opened up as the match wore on.
But the overly slick surface made fluidity difficult and the rock-hard foundations which posed issues in the NSL days naturally reared again.
A first half goal to Storm Roux was enough for the Mariners to grab the win though coach Phil Moss conceded it was anything but convincing.
“It wasn’t one of our prettiest performances. I thought we ground out the three points,” he said. “But coming off the back of a pretty bad performance down in Adelaide [losing 4-0], I think it showed a lot of mental strength to find a way to win. We were masters of our own undoing regards to possession. We gave away too much cheap ball.”
Winless Wellington coach Ernie Merrick could only laugh at his sides’ inexplicable misfortune around goal as they slumped to another undeserving defeat.
“This is week in week out, it just keeps going on and on,” he joked upon entering the press conference. “We had chance after chance after chance… but we still haven’t scored regularly in games. It’s always a goal here and a goal there but not consistently and that’s the frustrating part.”
Chances were few early on though the game eventually came to life and Mariners keeper Liam Reddy had to stand tall by pulling off a string of saves when challenged by the Phoenix’s front pairing of Stein Huysegems and Jeremy Brockie.
No matter what the Phoenix tried they couldn’t break Reddy’s resolve, although he did have to rely on Nick Montgomery once to clear his lines.
Moss’s decision to stick with the veteran keeper despite his unpleasant outing against Adelaide was vindicated by a man of the match display.
Not to be outdone, Phoenix keeper Glenn Moss was also having a night to remember and he too denied repeat efforts from the Mariners.
But with chances at either end starting to rise, something had to give. Eventually it was Mile Sterjovski who curled a ball into the path of Daniel McBreen, and while the burly striker did his best to control the ball, it ultimately bobbled into Roux’s path.
The New Zealander, despite never scoring an A-League goal, showed plenty of composure to break Moss’s dogged resistance for what proved the match-winner.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been the deciding moment. Just minutes after half-time, Roux looked to have turned from hero to villain when he fouled Manny Muscat in the box, leading Kris Griffiths-Jones to blow for a penalty. But Reddy’s box-office night continued, diving to his left to deny Huysegems.
Not to be outdone, Moss replied with a top save from Marcos Flores and then a world-class stop from a scintillating Nick Fitzgerald effort. Clearly, the stars of the show were wearing gloves.
The Phoenix launched wave after wave going forward to find an equaliser but a mixture of sloppy finishing – particularly one late effort from Brockie – and Reddy brilliance ensured their winless run continued.