It's early days but worrying signs for Central Coast Mariners fans as the Gosford club slipped to their second consecutive defeat against Sydney FC in a fiery affair at Allianz Stadium.
In what was Graham Arnold's first match against the side he lead to an A-League championship in 2013, the sky blues never looked troubled by an out-of-sorts Mariners outfit, where a spectacular 25-yard half volley from Terry Antonis and an instinctive deflection of the right shin of Sasa Ognenovski lead the harbour city club to a 2-0 victory.
The Mariners seemed lost at sea even before the kick-off, with Phil Moss' team selection sure to ignite fierce debate in the coming days. Matthew Nash made his first senior A-League appearance in two years, deputising for the injured Liam Reddy, while English stalwart Nick Montgomery, Nick Fitzgerald and Zac Anderson were notable ommissions.
Anderson's absence was cause for query, with former Blacktown City defender Jacob Poscoliero retaining his place ahead of the 23-year old in the heart of defence. Charged with the task of controlling and negating the influence of Austrain man mountain Marc Janko, Poscoliero's physical stature had little effect. With John Hutchinson consistently dropping back to assist, the yellow and navy lost numbers in the midfield and turned the ball over in Sydney territory with alarming regularity.
It's just not good enough.
The sky blues dynamism proved the difference, taking the scenic route on two set pieces to leave the Mariners in shambles after 25 minutes. Antonis benefitted from the first; controlling a 21st minute corner kick on the far edge of the 18-yard box before blasting a half volley through several pairs of legs and past a despairing Nash to nestle neatly in the bottom corner of the net.
The 20-year old's strike registered as the 3,000th A-League goal since its inception 10 years ago, and added a third to Sydney's list of goal-of-the-season contenders, matching the strikes of Janko and Milos Dimitrijevic from a week earlier.
Moments later, Eddie Bosnar fouled Alex Brosque on the edge of the box, and the resulting dead ball was layed off to Dimitrijevic. With an extreme element of luck, the Serbian's tame shot struck the outstretched leg of Ognenovski, fooling Nash with its alternate trajectory.
A lack of prosperous endeavour and fortune for the yellow and navy was capped off minutes before Strebre Delovski mercilessly called time, with Sydney stopper Vedran Janjetovic saving Mitchell Duke's penalty and the resulting follow up after Bosnar was judged to have been dragged down in the box.