The Central Coast Mariners have been doing everything right in the off-season, and deserve a shot at the A-League title. Coach Alen Stajcic has recruited players specifically with experience and pitch authority.
Shayon Harrison’s dynamite dribbling has helped Melbourne City to end their A-League season on a high, with a 5-0 win over Central Coast.
But, the belting might cost City as they aim to reach a first grand final in the club’s history.
Warren Joyce’s side ended their Mariners hoodoo on Friday night at AAMI Park, overcoming the wooden spooners for the first time this season in emphatic fashion.
Harrison scored a classy brace to bookend Riley McGree’s volley and Dario Vidosic’s tap-in.
Ramy Najjarine netted a rocket for his first A-League goal, putting Alen Stajcic’s sorry outfit to bed.
The win takes City equal on points with fifth-placed Wellington, who travel to play premiers Perth on Sunday.
That result at HBF Park will determine the ultimate make-up of the finals.
Should the Glory beat an anticipated under-strength Phoenix by two goals, City will head to Adelaide for their elimination final instead of staying home for a derby with Melbourne Victory.
Given City are on a 12-game unbeaten streak at AAMI Park, haven’t lost to Victory this season and captain Scott Jamieson has labelled Victory as their preferred finals opponents, their 5-0 win might well be bittersweet.
Joyce said slowing up never entered his mind.
“I certainly said to the players before, we wanted to win convincingly, by as many goals as you possibly can,” he said.
“You can’t be selective on who you play (in finals).”
At least City will enter the finals with a head of steam up courtesy of their big win.
Joyce rested a string of key players – including marquees Jamie Maclaren, Ritchie de Laet and Eugene Galekovic – keeping the playoffs in mind.
Harrison transformed a staid affair on 34 minutes with his fancy footwork.
The Tottenham Hotspur loanee jinked past Matt Millar, Jacob Melling and Jem Karacan before toe-poking past Jack Clisby off the far post.
The delightful effort laid a base for City to go on a spree.
McGree leathered a close-range volley from Jamieson’s curling cross before the break.
After it, Luke Brattan set up Lachie Wales, who slid a low cross for Vidosic to get in on the act.
Harrison reappeared to score a second, latching onto Wales’ through ball, completing a 20-minute four-goal rout.
They weren’t finished, with Najjarine netting a breakaway effort in injury time to equal City’s biggest A-League win.
Joyce also threw on Idrus Abdulahi late in the match, making the 16-year-old the youngest man to represent the club.
Central Coast’s rancid effort ensures the Mariners go through the season without a clean sheet, becoming just the third team in 42 Australian seasons to do so.
Stajcic said the result came at the end of a long season for his battling side.
“The first goal opened the floodgates a little bit and heads dropped … it’s understandable but not acceptable,” he said.