Melbourne Victory have boosted their A-League finals credentials with a scrappy 3-1 win over Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park.
Though neither side played as if their name would be inscribed on the A-League trophy, the Victory’s win earned them vital breathing space over their fellow finals aspirants.
A late Kosta Barbarouses goal and James Troisi penalty settled the contest after Jimmy Jeggo put the Victory ahead and Zac Anderson equalised for the Mariners.
The match began at a languid pace, with both sides in the middle of challenging Asian Champions League campaigns and beginning a fortnight when each side will play five matches.
Already beset with absentees through injury, suspension and international duty, the Victory lost Adama Traore in the warm-up, with Jason Geria his last-minute replacement.
Traore’s withdrawal weakened an already young side – with nine of the Victory’s match-day squad aged 22 or younger.
The Mariners began on top of their young opponents but failed to take two gilt-edged chances to take the lead.
Mitchell Duke looked surprised when the ball rebounded off the back post from a Mariners corner to his feet and could not put it into an unguarded net.
A quarter hour later, Duke’s centre was met by Nick Fitzgerald just metres from Lawrence Thomas’ goal but he sliced his header too fine and the chance was lost.
The Victory had not had a shot in the first half-hour but, after a warning strike from Gui Finkler, the Brazilian helped his side into the lead on 31 minutes.
Controlling the ball neatly in the box, he picked out Jeggo who fired through the legs of Matthew Sim and into Liam Reddy’s goal at the back post.
It was a lead the Victory didn’t deserve but one they took to halftime.
Two minutes after the restart, Fitzgerald again mis-fired with a strong chance, striking straight at Thomas when one-on-one.
The Victory looked to have contained the Mariners successfully but a Leigh Broxham foul gave Kim Seung-Yong the chance to fire in a free kick close to the touch line, leading to the Mariners’ equaliser.
Young keeper Thomas flew high but missed the Korean’s fine delivery, allowing centre-back Anderson to hit home his first goal for the Mariners since joining two seasons ago.
Anderson’s impact on the match wasn’t over, with Archie Thompson firing a cross into his hand just inside the box on 77 minutes, which Troisi duly converted with a powerful strike from the spot.
In injury-time Barbarouses made the game safe, sliding home Thompson’s centre.