Mariners stunned as classy Caceres fires Sydney to statement win

Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC - Highlights | Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 | Round 16

A masterclass from Sydney FC midfielder Anthony Caceres has fired the Sky Blues to a 3-1 win over Central Coast, bringing the Mariners’ 12-game unbeaten run to an abrupt end.

Rhyan Grant headed the away side in front after just four minutes before Caceres then weaved his magic inside the box to fire the Sky Blues into a two-goal lead.

An own-goal from Mariners defender Dan Hall then left his team with a mountain to climb after just 20 minutes and it would, and should, have been 4-0 before half-time were it not for an horrendous miss from striker Patrick Wood.

Central Coast forward Angel Torres reduced the deficit to two early in the second half with a well-taken strike and while the Mariners did apply plenty of late pressure the Sky Blues kept things tight at the back to seal all three points.

Defeat for Mark Jackson’s side now leaves them five points behind league leaders Wellington Phoenix while the win moves Sydney FC into the top six.

The away side stormed into the lead in just the fourth minute as seasoned defender Rhyan Grant latched on to Anthony Caceres’ looping header into the box, timing his run to perfection before nodding the ball past Danny Vukovic.

Grant’s finish made Isuzu UTE A-League history, with the Sky Blues becoming the first club to reach 800 goals in the competition.

With the away supporters still celebrating, Ufuk Talay’s team then bagged their second just four minutes later as Caceres went from provider to scorer, this time displaying some fine footwork inside the box to evade several Mariners defenders before dispatching his shot beyond Vukovic and into the net.

The Sky Blues fans were then in dreamland as Caceres caused more havoc inside the box, delivering a dangerous cut back which was inadvertently turned into his own net by Mariners defender Dan Hall to make it 3-0 after just 20 minutes.

Things should have been a whole lot worse for the Mariners before the break however Sydney FC striker Patrick Wood failed to convert after stealing the ball off Vukovic. Wood had an open goal at his mercy but fired wide from close range.

After failing to control a back pass, Vukovic proceeded to stab the ball into the path of Wood, who under no pressure and two metres out, slotted the ball wide of the post, much to the dismay of the Sydney FC coaching staff.

Central Coast head coach Mark Jackson rang the changes at half time bringing on Jing Reec for Mikael Doka and the former almost pulled one back for the home side but was thwarted by Sky Blues ‘keeper Andrew Redmayne early in the second half.

However the home side did get on the scoreboard just a few minutes later with Colombian forward Angel Torres racing onto a clever no-look pass from Storm Roux before toe-poking the ball past Redmayne from an acute angle.

Mariners midfielder Max Balard came close to bagging his first Isuzu UTE A-League goal in the 76th minute however his free kick sailed agonisingly wide of the target as the home side succumbed to their first league defeat since November 12 in front of a crowd of more than 11,000 at Industree Group Stadium.

Furthermore, the Sky Blues’s impressive win also saw them create A-League Men history at Industree Group stadium.

Rhyan Grant’s opener in the fourth minute of the match was Sydney FC’s 800th goal in the Isuzu UTE A-League – a feat no other club has accomplished.

“We started really well in that first half,” said Grant when speaking to Paramount+. “We tried to do that second half but credit to them they came out firing.

“It would have been nicer to have been a little bit cleaner with the ball but defensively we probably did enough.”

Sydney FC’s high press was certainly key to their early success in Gosford and Grant believes his side are certainly becoming a more effective side under the tutelage of Ufuk Talay.

“We’ve been trying to do that since Uffie came in,” said Grant. “I think we’ve scored a few early goals throughout the season but it’s always the plan to score as many goals as we can early – tonight it just sort of clicked.

“They’re a very good team so we wanted to get on top of them early, create that bit of a buffer and hopefully hold on and that’s what we did.”