Central Coast has scored its first A-League victory at home in almost a year, setting aside pre-season ownership issues to down Newcastle 1-0 on Thursday night.
The battling Mariners, who’d been put up for sale in August but have yet to close out a deal, held on against fellow financial strugglers the Jets, who are also looking for a buyer.
Alou Kuol scored the lone goal for the Mariners at Central Coast Stadium in a match that picked up after a ponderous start.
After dominating possession for long periods midway through the half, the home side was finally rewarded in the 43rd minute.
— A-League (@ALeague) December 31, 2020
What initially appeared to be a fairly innocuous free kick by Stefan Nigro suddenly found the Jets wanting as their defence failed to clear the bouncing ball.
Kuol was on the spot to capitalise, heading past frustrated goalkeeper Jack Duncan for his first A-League goal.
Clear-cut chances were at a premium early, a rough challenge by returning Mariner Oliver Bozanic on Jason Hoffman in the sixth minute the most notable action in the first quarter of play.
His actions went unpunished, veteran Hoffman immediately paying the penalty however, leaving the field with an apparent leg injury.
— Central Coast Mariners (@CCMariners) December 31, 2020
Interim Jets coach Craig Deans admitted he missed the incident live but questioned what had gone on once he saw it.
“I thought it was, in the end when you looked at the replay, actually a pretty poor challenge but the referees decided it was OK – and that’s the way the cookie crumbles,” Deans said.
Things picked up later in the half, the Mariners enjoying some more fluid attack with debutant Jaden Cassella providing great punch down the left as Ramy Najjarine offered similar spark on the right for the Jets.
Najjarine was in the thick of things five minutes after the break, the striker’s deft cross setting up Kosta Petratos for what should have been the equaliser – only to be denied by a spectacular Mark Birighitti save.
The keeper repeated the dose in the 70th minute, clearing again brilliantly from a curling Angus Thurgate shot from just outside the 18-yard box.
The Mariners, wooden spooners in 2019-20, last won at Central Coast Stadium on January 12, a 3-2 victory over Melbourne Victory.
Mariners coach Alen Stajcic paid credit to his players who he said were simply concentrating on playing football.
“There’s been no focus on any other distraction – of COVID, or talk of any other things in and around the club or the league,” Stajcic said.
“We’ve really just been settled and stable – probably the most stable we’ve been for a long time I would say and I think some of that showed on the pitch.”