Melbourne City have extended their gap on fourth place with a 1-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park on Sunday.
Warren Joyce’s side took the lead in the 59th minute when Ross McCormack netted his seventh goal for the season, and his first from open play.
McCormack’s second-half strike proved to be the winner in a dominant display from the home side, who next travel to Sydney to face the reigning champions in a blockbuster clash on Friday night.
Head Coach Warren Joyce made two changes to the starting XI that faced the Newcastle Jets in City’s 2-1 win last week. Nathaniel Atkinson made his A-League debut in place of the suspended Manny Muscat, while Osama Malik replaced Marcin Budzinski.
Atkinson was handed his senior debut following a standout performance in Melbourne City Youth’s 9-2 win over Melbourne Victory last week. Dean Bouzanis was rewarded for his performance against the Newcastle Jets, retaining his spot in the starting line-up ahead of Eugene Galekovic.
In perfect conditions at AAMI Park, it was Warren Joyce’s side that came out of the blocks firing, as City stamped its authority on the contest right from the get-go.
City came closest to opening the scoring eight minutes in but were denied by a tremendous double save from Kennedy. La Rocca flicked on Luke Brattan’s corner, before both McCormack and Mauk were denied from point black range.
Three minutes later, Mauk forced Kennedy into another solid save when he fired a shot towards the bottom left-hand corner of the goal.
The early pressure continued to pile on the Mariners as Brattan tried his luck from range, Kennedy was left scrambling but his shot just sailed wide.
There appeared to be very little sign of nerves troubling Atkinson in the opening 20 minutes, with the youngster looking right at home on the right wing. A solid battle formed between the 18-year-old and former City-man Josh Rose.
Mauk had a golden chance to put the home side in front inside 25 minutes when he was brilliantly placed into the box by McCormack. Nick Fitzgerald carried the ball through the middle of the park before finding McCormack on the left, the Scotsman’s diagonal ball put Mauk one-on-one with Kennedy but the goalkeeper was equal to the task.
Moments later Kennedy again came to the rescue for the Mariners, denying Jake McGing from registering an own-goal with a superb save off Brattan’s resulting corner.
Atkinson grew with confidence as the game progressed. The winger schooled Rose on the right-wing in the 34th minute, before firing a ball across the box that missed both Fitzgerald and Mauk by a matter of inches.
Kennedy was again called into action five minutes before the break when Jakobsen struck a ball goal bound. Atkinson did well to beat Rose on the right and find Jakobsen before the Dane partnered with Fitzgerald for a neat one-two inside the box, but his shot from six yards was saved by the keeper.
Schenkeveld and La Rocca did well to nullify the impact of De Silva, Appiah and Hoole in the opening stanza.
Paul Okon’s team stood up to a mountain of pressure in the first-half and had Kennedy to thank that they headed into the sheds at half-time with the scores locked at 0-0.
Unlike the first-half, the opening 10 minutes in the second period proved to be more of a stalemate as neither side was willing to give away an inch.
City’s early dominance eventually prevailed in the 59th minute when McCormak’s composed finish beat Kennedy from close range. Bouzanis received the ball in his box before hitting Brattan superbly in the Mariners half, the midfielder then turned beautifully before approaching the box and laying off a perfectly timed ball for McCormack to finish.
Following McCormack’s goal the game hit a lull as the Mariners struggled to trouble the scoreboard and City’s defence. Joyce’s team was able to control proceedings comfortably without performing anything too precarious.
In saying that, Connor Pain had a golden chance to equalise at the end of regulation time when he was found in the box but a desperate Mauk spectacularly denied him with a last-ditch block in the dying moments.
City will travel to Allianz Stadium in Round 11 to face the high-flying Sydney FC in a Friday night blockbuster, kick-off 7:50pm. City’s next home game will come against Melbourne Victory in a Melbourne Derby at AAMI Park on Saturday, 23 December.