The A-League has pushed ahead with its first games under lockout conditions, with Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar registering Friday night wins.
Jamie Maclaren’s hat-trick inspired Melbourne City’s 4-2 away win over Central Coast, scoring three goals in the first 10 minutes of the game at Gosford, which started in 34-degree conditions.
Maclaren’s hat-trick lifts him to 18 goals and above Sydney FC star Adam Le Fondre into first place in the the battle for the Golden Boot.
Second-placed City, undefeated in their past four, move to within seven points of leaders Sydney, who have three games in hand.
They recovered from conceding an early goal to condemn the last-placed Mariners to a 10th-straight loss.
“It was crazy. It was difficult conditions today with the weather,” said City assistant coach Patrick Kisnorbo, who oversaw the side on Friday, with head coach Erick Mombaerts not travelling.
“We didn’t start well with the goal (we conceded), but we showed tremendous character as a collective to come back.”
The Mariners’ Jordan Murray scored within the first two minutes, after running onto a Jack Clisby through ball.
Maclaren equalised three minutes later after he was able to get in behind the home defence.
The early goal glut continued with Markel Susaeta heading in at the far post from a Craig Noone cross.
“They were very soft goals from our point of view in terms of concentration and focus,” Mariners coach Alen Stajcic said of City’s first two.
“It wasn’t as if we were outnumbered or anything. We just switched off in terms of marking key players in the box.
It was really disappointing to let them back in the game so quickly and they don’t have to work hard for it.”
The game cooled down after the hot start but it took just three minutes of the second half for Maclaren to toe home from close range for his second.
Murray gave the Mariners some hope when he headed in a Chris Harold cross in the 69th minute for his first A-League double.
Maclaren restored City’s two-goal lead when he thumped the ball home after a shot from Nathaniel Atkinson was deflected into his path.
“I think we controlled the game for the majority,” Maclaren said.
Veteran Brisbane forward Scott McDonald continued his run of goalscoring form for the Roar in their 1-0 win over Newcastle.
The 36-year-old’s first-half strike at CBUS Super Stadium, his fourth in three matches, was enough to secure the Roar their third-straight win and keep them in fourth place.
The loss is the Jets’ first under Welsh coach Carl Robinson, ending a six-game unbeaten run and all but extinguishing any hopes the ninth-placed team had of sneaking into the finals.
The round-27 match, brought forward with both teams’ scheduled opponents Wellington and Melbourne Victory in isolation due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, was played behind closed doors at the Gold Coast stadium.
Despite the lockout, a handful of Roar fans could be heard chanting and supporting their team from outside the ground throughout the match.
The hardy faithful had something to cheer for their efforts in the 16th minute when ex-Socceroo McDonald was found on the edge of the box and arrowed a shot into the bottom corner.
The Jets toiled hard but former Roar striker Roy O’Donovan was often isolated up front, as the visitors struggled to break down Brisbane’s defence.
The Irish veteran’s 35th-minute chance was as good an opening as the visitors created in the opening half, but Roar skipper Tom Aldred recovered to deflect O’Donovan’s shot wide.
Robinson’s team have a quick turnaround before hosting Melbourne City on Monday at McDonald Jones Stadium, while the Roar’s next game might well be on March 28 against Sydney FC, with a new date for their trip to Melbourne to face Victory yet to be set.