Central Coast Mariners disastrous start to the season shows no sign of letting up after Mike Mulveys side coughed up a first-half lead on their home turf to lose the F3 Derby to bitter rivals Newcastle.
The 2-1 defeat means the Mariners are now in the midst of their worst ever start to an A-League season, having collected just two points from a possible 27.
With club chairman Mike Charlesworth making a rare appearance at Central Coast stadium, the home fans made their disapproval known loud and clear, reminding him it had already been 303 days without a win. That will now be extended to at least 311, but the home fans want changes now, chanting Charlesworth out before full-time.
Although Charlesworth appeared in the press in the run-up to the match exhorting his underperforming team to dig deep against Newcastle, the chairman hasnt exactly dug deep into his pockets to aid his ailing side. The Mariners players were put through their paces in the warm-up by half as many assistant coaches as Newcastle Jets players were afforded.
If anyone dug deep it was it the visitors. Jason Hoffman cancelled out Matt Simon first-half opener with a header just after the hour mark, before Ronny Vargas iced the comeback with less than 10 minutes left.
Simons 37th minute strike gave the Mariners plenty of hope that they could climb out of their rut, as the hosts broke free from a ferocious early start to the match that saw the foul count dwarf the number of attempts on goal.
Fullback Matt Millar sparked a counter-attack down the right flank to float a well-weighted cross to the far post of the Jets goal to find the run of his captain at the far post, and Simon made no mistake from point blank range, heading the Mariners into the lead to spark wild celebrations from the home fans.
Tensions threatened to boil over following that goal as Mariners duo Mario Shabow and Connor Pain and Jets goalkeeper Glen Moss were all booked following a heated melee on the stroke of half-time.
It mattered little to the hosts, who received a standing ovation from the home fans who were treated to a rare lead at the break.
It almost disappeared immediately after the restart, however, as Jair missed a gilt-edge chance to draw his side level with a header inside the box in the 46th minute before Pearce reacted well to deny Vargas from a set-piece shortly after as the Jets shifted gear.
However, they remained vulnerable in the backline as the Mariners nearly sealed first win of the season against the run of play. Pain robbed Hoffman of the ball to earn himself a one-on-one with Moss but made a poor decision to hurry his shot, letting the Jets off the hook with a weak attempt.
That mistake became all the more painful for the Mariners winger in the ensuing aftermath. Having been under pressure from the Jets all half, Central Coasts lead evaporated in the 66th minute from a routine corner. Newcastle local Hoffman rose the highest to meet Jairs delivery, heading into the corner of the net to make it 1-1.
Hoffman thought he had delivered the visitors the lead in the 80th minute with yet another header, only for his celebrations to be cut short by an astute linesman who spotted the offside.
However, it only delayed the inevitable. Two minutes later and Newcastle had the lead their second-half performance warranted after Vargas latched on to a Kaine Sheppard pass into the box to thump the winner past Pearce.
Dominic Bossi is a football reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.
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