Classy Mariners clinch A-League plate
Central Coast Mariners clinched the A-League's Premiers Plate when they beat Wellington Phoenix 2-1 in the final round of the regular season.
The Mariners needed victory at Westpac Stadium to be sure of finishing on top of the competition, ahead of second-placed Brisbane Roar, and they overcame a sluggish start to deliver the result for coach Graham Arnold through goals by English striker John Sutton and teenager Bernie Ibini.
The fourth-placed Phoenix, who went into their match with nothing to lose, battled hard and produced an encouraging display five days out from their knockout semi-final.
Goals either side of halftime gave the Mariners a comfortable lead until a superb 25m Leo Bertos free kick hauled the home team back.
There was a remote mathematical chance of the Phoenix leapfrogging Perth into third, after the Glory's 4-2 win over Melbourne Victory on Saturday night meant Wellington had to beat Central Coast by three goals to move up the ladder.
That never looked likely, although as the first half wore on Dani Sanchez put in some good work and striker Paul Ifill's probing runs kept the Mariners' back four busy.
Both teams managed to create chances, and both keepers had to work hard to keep a clean sheet.
The Phoenix's Mark Paston produced a excellent smothering save to deny 19-year-old striker Ibini in the 32nd minute, then Central Coast's Matt Ryan fended off a stinging shot from Chris Greenacre.
The Mariners were rewarded for their hard work with barely a minute to go to halftime.
Ibini's through ball found lively midfielder Oliver Bozanic, whose well-timed cross was headed home by Sutton.
The second half was barely five minutes old before the Mariners notched up their second, another dangerous run from elusive All Whites midfielder Michael McGlinchey finished coolly by Ibini.
But the Phoenix continued to compete strongly, and when McGlinchey brought down Vince Lia after a strong run down the right in the 80th minute, Bertos stepped up to give the 9802 home crowd a glimmer of hope.
The equaliser never came, but the Phoenix's improved performance bodes well for their playoffs campaign.