Mariners consolidate top spot

A late winner from Bernie Ibini-Isei has helped Central Coast twice come from behind to defeat Perth Glory 3-2 in a thrilling National Youth League battle in Perth on Saturday afternoon.

A late winner from Bernie Ibini-Isei has helped Central Coast twice come from behind to defeat Perth Glory 3-2 in a thrilling National Youth League battle in Perth on Saturday afternoon.

Playing with the aid of a gusty breeze in the first half, the Glory opened the scoring in the eighth minute through regular senior striker Branko Jelic before Mariners skipper Panny Nikas saw his 22nd-minute penalty saved.

But if goals were in short supply during the first period, a healthy crowd at Perth's Clipsal Stadium was in for a treat after the break as both teams traded blows, with Dylan Macallister equalising in the 57th minute only for the Glory to re-take the lead seconds later through Dean Evans.

But as the shadows lengthened on a warm afternoon, Nikas made up for his spot-kick miss when he fired home in the 77th minute before the impressive Ibini-Isei sealed the result with a classy half-volley five minutes from time.

The result sees Central Coast consolidate its position atop the table, the Mariners climbing five points ahead of second-placed Adelaide United and third-placed Perth.

Despite missing an opportunity to give his side the lead in the sixth minute, Jelic made up for the missed chance two minutes later as he took advantage of a fumble from Mariners stopper Matthew Ryan to slot the ball into an empty net.

With senior Glory players Jelic and Wayne Srhoj using this game to return from injury, Perth controlled play during the opening stages before Central Coast was given a chance to level when Brady Smith was brought down by a clumsy Sam Mitchinson tackle in the box.

However, Nikas failed to convert his chance as Alex Pearson guessed correctly and pushed it around the post.

Despite Srhoj and Jelic only playing for 32 minutes, a re-jigged Perth side almost took advantage of Nikas' miss to double the lead in the half's latter stages as Hayden Doyle crashed a sensational 25-metre strike narrowly over the bar.

Mariners coach Tony Walmsley changed his side's shape at half-time, switching Ibini-Isei from the right flank to the left with good effect as the visitors took control of the game.

In the 56th minute Nikas saw a glancing header slide narrowly over the bar before the Glory cracked under the pressure a minute later failing to clear its lines as a low ball from Jonathan Brown found an unmarked Macallister, who converted from close range.

The Mariners had barely finished celebrating when a mistimed clearance from their defence fell perfectly for midfielder Evans to crash home from 20 metres out as Perth instantly responded.

In an end-to-end affair, both sides kept looking for the goals but it was the Mariners who levelled once again with 13 minutes remaining when a crafty flick from Ibeni-Isei released Shane Huke down the left, whose cross was slammed home by Nikas.

Two minutes later Glory 'keeper Pearson did well to deny the Mariners with his feet as a Nikas corner produced a goalmouth scramble, before Perth looked to have regained the lead with six minutes to go.

A Doyle cross from the right was converted by bustling midfielder Glen Trefiro only to be ruled marginally offside, with the Mariners taking full advantage of the let-off to take the lead themselves a minute later as defender Brady Smith produced a sizzling run down the right.

Taking on the defender, Smith crossed to Ibini-Isei at the near post, who half-volleyed it home to give Central Coast the points, ensuring they remain in top spot.

Perth Glory 2 (Jelic 8, Evans 58) Central Coast Mariners 3 (Macallister 57, Nikas 77, Ibini-Isei 85)