It was a case of no Diego Castro, no problems, as Perth Glory returned to winning ways after overcoming Central Coast Mariners, 1-0, on their Hyundai A-League return in Gosford.
The 2018/19 Premiers returned from the lockdown off the back of four straight winless games, but coach Tony Popovic turned the tables at Central Coast Stadium to put Perth’s bid to avenge last season’s Grand Final heartache back on track.
Dane Ingham struck his first goal for Glory, and only his second in the competition, to break the deadlock with a stunning effort on 32 minutes after newly-appointed captain Neil Kilkenny found the Kiwi wing-back with a razor-sharp, no-look pass.
In the absence of Castro, who elected to stay back in Western Australia for the rest of the campaign, Bruno Fornaroli doubled as Perth’s main goal threat and their chief creator as Glory built a strong platform, although the Mariners imposed themselves on the last 20 minutes without fashioning a clear chance for an equaliser.
Glory keeper Liam Reddy celebrated becoming the first goalkeeper to join the Hyundai A-League’s 300 club with a clean sheet, as he matched the achievements of Andrew Durante, Leigh Broxham and Nikolai Topor-Stanley in reaching the milestone.
A late rally was not enough to prevent an 11th defeat in a row for the Mariners, as they equal the worst losing streak in competition history set by the New Zealand Knights in 2005. Striker Jordan Murray suffered a dislocated shoulder to compound matters, leaving Alen Stajcic’s toothless side destined for a third straight wooden spoon.
There were starting berths for two of coach Popovic’s sons, Kristian and Gabriel, the latter making a full competition debut, while versatile Spaniard Juande dropped into Glory’s back three. A congested opening 10 minutes was punctuated by Central Coast midfielder Jacob Melling’s speculative effort which did not test veteran gloveman Reddy.
With both sides growing in to game, Fornaroli sprung Perth’s attack into action at the quarter hour, finding Ivan Franjic in space, and the right wing-back saw his driven cross diverted wide of goal. A minute later, the Uruguayan frontman then showed a sharp turn before dragging a strike wide of Mariners’ captain Mark Birighitti’s near post.
Glory upped the tempo as they seized control of possession and their high press was beginning to cause problems for the Yellow and Black’s backline. Fornaroli skewed a 26th-minute effort off target after a series of Perth set pieces threatened a breakthrough. That moment finally arrived when Ingham weaved inside and lashed in a right-footed strike after Kilkenny’s delicate pass followed a quickly-taken free-kick.
Sammy Silvera slammed a 25-yard shot wide with the half drawing to a close and the basement dwellers showed more intent after the break. The tricky attacker drilled another attempt straight at Reddy on 52 minutes, moments after Fornaroli continued to torment Central Coast’s rearguard by winning a free-kick and forcing Birighitti into a diving parry and the Mariners scrambled Franjic’s rebound away.
After almost getting his head on a whipped Dylan Ruiz-Diaz cross, Jordan Murray was involved in a crunching collision with Perth defender Alex Grant on 67 minutes that saw the Mariners forward carried off on a stretcher with a dislocated shoulder. The introduction of Matt Simon forced Central Coast to resort to a more direct approach as Perth were drawn to defend deeper to weather the storm.
Perth substitute Carlo Armiento brought a low block from Birighitti after an 80th-minute counter-attack almost caught Central Coast off-guard as the Mariners' continued their desperate attempts to salvage a share of the points.
Juande hacked the ball away during a goal-mouth scramble to ensure those efforts amounted to nothing and James Meredith was denied a late insurance goal as fifth-placed Glory closed the gap on the top four to a single point.