Central Coast Mariners 2
Wellington Phoenix 0
The Wellington Phoenix's stuttering start to the A-League season has continued, losing 2-0 to the Central Coast Mariners in Wollongong, a fourth defeat in six matches to begin their new campaign.
Wellington were forced to play over an hour of the game with ten men after striker David Ball was sent off for a reckless studs-up challenge on Mariners veteran Matt Simon in the 27th minute. The collision left Simon writhing on the turf and there can be little argument with the decision which will see the English striker serve at least a one-game ban and possibly more, given its rash nature.
To make matters worse, ever-present centre back Josh Laws was substituted at the same time having picked up a knock, and his defensive partner Luke DeVere also limped off with a quarter of the game remaining.
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Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay had already made two injury-enforced changes after Israeli marquee Tomer Hemed and combative midfielder Cameron Devlin were ruled out, with attacker Jaushua Sotirio also a month away from returning. Reno Piscopo and Matt Ridenton were elevated to the starting eleven, with Piscopo the pick of Wellington's players on a difficult afternoon.
The Phoenix actually started the game strongly, forcing a succession of corners without seriously testing Mariners goalkeeper Mark Birighitti. At the other end, Stefan Marinovic was practically a spectator in the early stages, but was called upon on the quarter-hour to beat away a fierce Simon drive.
Ball's dismissal changed the complexion of the game with Ulises Davila left to feed off scraps in the attacking third and the league-leading visitors exploiting their one-man advantage. Simon opened the scoring five minutes before halftime, latching onto a precise through-pass from Costa Rican attacker Marco Urena and finishing neatly past Marinovic.
The Mariners came close to doubling their lead just after the break with Josh Nisbet crashing a left-footed effort against the post. It mattered little, because shortly afterwards, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi brought down Daniel De Silva in the penalty area, allowing Oliver Bozanic to beat Marinovic from the spot.
While Wellington stayed gamely in the contest and prevented any further scoring, they barely threatened Birighitti's goal, registering just a solitary shot on target in the entire match. The Mariners controlled proceedings and deservedly earned a sixth win of the season to remain at the top of the table.
Given their worryingly long injury list, there'll be a degree of relief in the Phoenix camp the mid-week clash away at Melbourne Victory has been postponed. Instead, Wellington will host Western Sydney next Sunday.
Central Coast Mariners 2 (Simon 40', Bozanic pen 50')
Wellington Phoenix 0