Wellington thump Mariners 4-1, Australia Division
The Central Coast’s title defence has been left in tatters with a resurgent Wellington inflicting a 4-1 drubbing on the reigning champions on Friday.
It was the fourth-straight defeat for the Mariners, their worst losing streak since December 2009, and they now find themselves just hanging onto fifth spot with only seven games remaining.
Wellington on the other hand rebounded from their shock 5-0 loss to Melbourne Heart last week to continue their late finals charge and regain a top-six spot.
Young gun Bernie Ibini put the hosts in front at Central Coast Stadium.
But it all fell apart in the second half as the Phoenix ran rampage.
Kenny Cunningham netted an equaliser straight after the break with keeper Glenn Moss saving a penalty as dangermen Carlos Hernandez and Stein Huysegems scored two goals in two minutes and Jeremy Brockie put the final nail in the coffin.
With Mariners coach Phil Moss forced into a raft of changes, losing three players to suspension, new recruit Kim Seung-Yong was handed his starting debut and the Korean playmaker proved crucial in creating the opening goal.
Young-gun Ibini got onto a ball from Kim to put the hosts in front in the 20th minute with his second goal in three games.
But it was a determined Phoenix who returned from the break, with Cunningham finding the equaliser a minute into the second half.
The Mariners were gifted the perfect chance to regain the lead less than 10 minutes later when Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante conceded a penalty for a handball in the box.
But All Whites gloveman Moss made sure it didn’t count, saving Mile Sterjovski’s spot-kick.
Hernandez continued to be a threat and finally broke though with a sensational long-range strike in the 65th minute.
The Mariners were again caught on the break just a minute later with Huysegems netting his 10th of the season to become the competition’s leading goal-scorer.
And Brockie, who came on for Hernandez, heaped more misery on the Mariners pouncing onto a Huysegems pass just moments after taking to the field to score in the 82nd minute.
Mariners coach Phil Moss, who will board a flight with his charges on Saturday morning for their Asian Champions League clash against FC Seoul on Tuesday, said he expected more from his players.
“That was a game of two halves,” he said.
“I was very happy with the way we played in the first half and it was a great goal from Bernie.
“We challenged ourselves at halftime to put two good halves of football together … and that was the end result.
“I’m not going to hide from the fact that that wasn’t good enough from us.
“We’re the masters of our own undoing, giving away the cheap ball, defending the edge of our box poorly and just not enough desperation or purpose with the ball.”
Wellington coach Ernie Merrick however wasn’t taking any credit for the Mariners’ second-half capitulation, saying it wasn’t a rousing dressing-room speech but a small tactical change that made the difference.
“People think coaches provide motivational, inspirational speeches all the time but really all we did was restructure only slightly our midfield at half-time,” he said.
“We were switching Stein and Carlos and they were having turns each at playing No.10 and that worked a treat.
“I don’t think the opposition knew where they were and every time they had the ball it looked like they were going to do something.”