Adelaide United rallied from a goal down and dented the Central Coast Mariners' faint finals hopes with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Coopers Stadium on Thursday night.
Two high-quality first-half goals in the space of 67 seconds, through Anthony Caceres and then a quick reply from Marcelo Carrusca, saw the two sides locked away at 1-1 at half-time.
But United, after weathering the Mariners' early high-pressing, neat-passing start, began to get right on top and seized the lead with Craig Goodwin's lucky deflected goal in the 67th minute, which proved enough.
WHAT THEY SAID
"They came out more hungry and won more second balls and had a few early chances but once we got the ball going our confidence went up and we dominated... It's a massive honour to get the (Socceroos) call-up and now it's up to me." - Adelaide defender Tarek Elrich
"To be fair I'm pretty happy with the boys performance today, they showed a lot of character and a lot of heart. It's been a tough couple of weeks and to come out and perform like that tonight I thought they did really well." - Mariners captain John Hutchinson
0-1 Caceres (23')
After the Mariners had the better of the early exchanges, Caceres made it official on the scoresheet when he robbed Dylan McGowan of possession and, from 20 yards out and granted far too much space, blazed a long-range peach past the outstretched Eugene Galekovic.
1-1 Carrusca (25')
The Mariners had a whole minute to celebrate their opening strike before Carrusca shimmed his way into the box, sold two dummies and fired a stylish strike from 18 yards, delivering the perfect retort for United.
2-1 Goodwin (67')
Goodwin cut inside and fired a shot which took a massive deflection off Central Coast defender Zac Anderson and sailed high over keeper Liam Reddy's head before plopping into the back of the net.
A mere few forgettable minutes just after the hour-mark cost Central Coast dearly.
With the score locked away at 1-1, Eddy Besnar was booked for holding Bruce Djite on the edge of the area, then Josh Rose lost his mind briefly while engaging in a war with Nigel Boogaard while awaiting the free kick.
Carrusca's spot-up missed by a coat of varnish but it was clear the Mariners had lost their way, even though Goodwin's goal moments later was rather fortunate.
Giving chase to Sergio Cirio on 43 minutes, fast-accelerating Mariners captain John Hutchinson collided with Japanese referee Yudai Yamamoto mid-pitch.
The unsuspecting Hutchinson appeared to come off second best but both men went to ground, to the mirth of the parochial Adelaide crowd.
Anderson was handed a yellow card when his hand got in the way of Carrusca's flick pass in the 84th minute, which could have been worse than just the free kick that was given.
The Mariners, desperate to equalise and stop the home side from extending its lead, were slightly lucky with replays confirming the impact was just inside the area.
THE FINAL WORD
Back in the winners' circle, if not quite at full tilt, Adelaide face off against arch rival and fellow top-two aspirant Melbourne Victory at Coopers Stadium next Saturday night in what looms as a typical, high-stakes blockbuster between the two old foes.
The Mariners were far from disgraced and the chance to shape the composition of the finals continues when they host top-ranked Perth Glory at Gosford next Sunday.