Central Coast Mariners strike late against Melbourne City to maintain ALM top-spot battle

Melbourne City’s Tolgay Arslan gets the better of Mariners goalkeeper Danny Vukovic in Gosford on Tuesday night.

Melbourne City’s Tolgay Arslan gets the better of Mariners goalkeeper Danny Vukovic in Gosford on Tuesday night. Photo: Getty

Central Coast Mariners are sending the race for the A-League Men premiership right down to the wire after Max Balard’s 93rd-minute strike sealed a 2-1 win over Melbourne City.

The Mariners look destined for a frustrating draw at Central Coast Stadium on Tuesday evening, which would have handed the advantage to Wellington Phoenix in the fight to finish top.

But Balard’s well-taken finish for his first senior goal ensured the Mariners cut the first-placed Phoenix’s lead to just three points with four rounds of the regular season left.

The top two meet in Gosford on Saturday, with the Mariners able to move top with victory.

The late loss was disastrous for City, which is facing the prospect of missing the finals for the first time in a decade.

The richly resourced Melbourne outfit is four points adrift of sixth-placed Western Sydney.

City really ought to have got something out of the game, but it paid the price for failing to capitalise on a dominant first half.

The fact it didn’t was mainly due to Mariners captain Danny Vukovic.

The goalkeeper denied Tolgay Arslan, Max Caputo and Marin Jakolis – at point-blank range on the stroke of half-time – to leave City with nothing to show for its impressive opening 45 minutes.

Arslan also hit the woodwork but the German midfielder found the breakthrough in the 50th minute after Caputo dispossessed Brian Kaltak as the Mariners defender attempted to play out from the back.

Caputo stabbed in a cross from the byline and Arslan thumped the ball past Vukovic.

City’s lead was deserved but it lasted less than four minutes before Vicente Fernandez clattered into Mariners winger Christian Theoharous inside the box.

Angel Torres sent Jamie Young the wrong way with the resultant penalty to register his 12th goal of his first season in the A-League.

City threw on Socceroos Jamie Maclaren, Mathew Leckie and Marco Tilio for the final half an hour but couldn’t find a way through.

Balard, however, had no such issues; slaloming his way through the City defence and slotting the ball past Young to keep the Mariners firmly in the running for the premiers’ plate.

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