Some late heroics from super sub Bernie Ibini has seen the Central Coast Mariners snatch a dramatic 2-1 victory against the Western Sydney Wanderers infront of a pumping crowd in Central Coast Stadium on Saturday night.
Mile Sterjovski was sent out a hero in his fairwell match as Ibini's goal broke the deadlock on 90 minutes after fullback Josh Rose had put the hosts ahead midway through the first half, before Nikolai Topor-Stanley restored parity heading into the half time interval.
The result means that the Mariners leapfrog Western Sydney into 2nd spot on the A-League table and, after Melbourne Victory played out a 1-all draw with Sydney FC in the Big Blue, will remain there at the weekends close.
Western Sydney will be left to rue a string of missed opportunities that could have seen them leave Gosford with all three points, and instead now find themselves well and truly entrenched in what will surely be a facinating battle for the second spot on the ladder.
The game began at low intensity, with both teams feeling their way into a match crucial to both sides title aspirations, before Aaron Mooy sparked the game to life on 25 minutes with a shot from the corner of the 18-yard box that whistled into Liam Reddy's crossbar with some aid from a handy palm by the Mariners gloveman.
The match suddenly had a pulse, and soon, albeit against the run of play, the Mariners would take the lead. Just after the half hour mark, Josh Rose made a marauding run from left back through the centre of the park and towards the Wanderers defensive third. Without many options to pass to, Rose continued forward into the box before opening up and firing with his left boot across Covic and into the far corner of the net at the Sauce Bottle end, finishing for the first time this season and the seventh time in his career.
The Wanderers quickly upped their tempo after this, and the reigning champions lead was short lived as Topor-Stanley equalised on 40 minutes. Mooy again was in the thick of the action as his perfectly weighted cross from the left flank found Tom Juric on the back stick, who volleyed back across goal and the centre back stuck a boot out and slammed the ball home from unmissable range.
Sterjovski earnt a heroes send off 12 minutes into the second half, when Phil Moss substituted the retiring former Socceroo for the speedy Ibini to bring a new challenge to the Wanderers back four. Each member of the 13,000 strong crowd were brought to their feet to honour a true legend of the game, however it was not the last time the crowd would rise as one.
A late cramp to Matt Simon left the Mariners a man down and gave the Wanderers a chance to capitolise, but the team from Sydney's west simply couldn't take their chances and they would live to regret it minutes before full time.
With seconds ticking away in the final moments of regular time, Storm Roux; a standout on the night, found the ball at his feet from a Kim Seung-yong pass and calmly cut the ball back for Ibini who sent a curling effort past the desperate fingers of Ante Covic and into the goal, sparking rapturous applause and sending Mile out a deserving winner.