A Matt Simon penalty and a late resurgence wasn't enough for the Mariners on Sunday night, as they fell 3-1 to the Western Sydney Wanderers at Central Coast Stadium.
It was a scrappy first half as the two teams vied for possession in the testing conditions, with plenty of chances created on both ends of the pitch.
Joshua Nisbet volleyed an effort at goal from the edge of the 18-yard box, but found Wanderers shot-stopper Lopar instead, and Daniel DeSilva and Tommy Oar both fired wide from inside the area in quick succession as the Mariners looked to push back aftera strong Wanderers opening.
Jordan Murray had the stand-out opportunity for the Mariners in the first half, getting on the end of a precision through ball from Nisbet, but after cutting inside he couldn’t keep the ball down.
There was a yellow card each for Matthew Jurman and Lewis Miller; the Western Sydney defender took Tommy Oar clean off his feet, and later Miller’s challenge brought Duke to ground.
Nicolai Muller was consistently dangerous in the Wanderers’ front third, carving a path through the Mariner’s defence to send a powerful shot skidding just wide of the mark in the 30th minute, then capitalising on a mistimed pass in the Mariners backline to put the visitors up 1-0 only minutes before half time.
The energy ramped up as the teams returned from the sheds for the second half and Mariners veteran Matt Simon made an immediate impact on the pitch, replacing Clisby at half time.
A flurry of missed chances for the Wanderers let the Mariners off, and Mark Birighitti was sent to ground after a close-range volley from Duke hit him directly in the face, a crucial block in a dangerous moment for the Mariners.
After a challenge in the penalty area from Tommy Oar on Simon Cox, Western Sydney were awarded a spot-kick that captain Mitchell Duke tucked away, sending the Wanderers two goals ahead with 15 minutes to go.
The tables were turned only minutes later, and a penalty was awarded to the Mariners after Pirmin Schwegler floored Simon in front of goal and the talisman stepped up to the spot and sent the ball straight to the back of the net.
Dylan Ruiz-Diaz came on for DeSilva late in the game, and the young forward had the crowd immediately on their feet with a goalbound header towards the bottom corner that Lopar did remarkably well to claw away for a Mariners corner.
The six minutes of added time were action packed as the Mariners worked to drive forward, and Muller received a yellow card for a cynical foul on Miller as the hosts charged forward, before the Wanderers launched a counter attack that finished with Simon Cox tapping home from close range.
Attentions for Stajcic and the Mariners now turn to Sunday’s #F3Derby clash with the Jets, with new signing Chris Harold set to join the side early in the week.