Ayres the F3 Derby hero for Jets as Mariners defeated in Liberty A-League return

Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets - Highlights | Liberty A-League 2023-24 | Round 1

After almost 14 years, Central Coast Mariners have returned to the Liberty A-League – but the club’s first game in the competition since 2009 ended in a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle Jets on Saturday evening.

An all-time record crowd for a standalone Liberty A-League home and away fixture flocked to Industree Group Stadium, with 5,735 in the stands to witness the F3 Derby in Gosford which was decided off the head of Jets star Melina Ayres, with her 81st-minute goal the difference in a fiery contest that featured a red card to either side.

The record attendance at the F3 Derby was later trumped by the 11,471 fans at the Sydney Derby on Saturday night, breaking the all-time Liberty A-League attendance record for a single round just two games into the 2023-24 season.

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A goalless first half was not without its nearly moments down either end, with the best chances of the game falling in quick succession to Jets recruit Ayres. The striker went one-on-one with Courtney Newbon in the 23rd minute, only to see her shot saved, along with the follow-up thanks to some razor-sharp reactions from the Mariners keeper.

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The Mariners were in the ascendancy in the second half, with striker Rola Badawiya growing into the contest and ramping up the pressure on Jets keeper Isobel Nino.

But just before the 80-minute mark, the contest exploded into life when a series of heavy challenges in midfield ignited a confrontation in which both Jets defender Alex Huynh and Faye Bryson received second yellow cards for playing their respective parts in the fracas.

Shortly after the two dismissals, Jets striker Ayres showed all of her class with a powerful header off Lara Gooch’s cross to put the Jets ahead on the road – and it proved all the visitors needed to hold on to an impressive win and three points to begin the 2023-24 season.

The talking point

Both teams were reduced to 10 players in a flash in the second half, when players from either side flew into a midfield melee after a series of committed challenges.

The main incident occurred after Mariners Isabel Gomez clattered Rebecca Burrows in a front-on challenge; Jets defender Natasha Prior came running from defence to remonstrate with Gomez, but Bryson inserted herself in between the two players, bearing the brunt of the blow.

Then, Huynh joined in on the commotion; both Huynh and Bryson pushed out at one another as a result and, with both players already booked prior in the game, referee Kate Jacewicz had no choice but to send both players to the stands.

The star

Melina Ayres the match-winner: Jets fans will be hoping to hear that phrase often throughout the 2023-24 Liberty A-League season.

Ayres signed for the Jets from Melbourne Victory ahead of the new campaign, and hasn’t wasted any time settling into her new surroundings. Her clinical header in the 81st minute was a class above any attempt on goal mustered throughout the remainder of the game; it was a goal fit to settle any game – and to do it in the F3 Derby made it all the more sweet for the new recruit, who wheeled off to celebrate with the travelling support.

What it means

For the Jets, three points away from home against the Mariners is the perfect start – particularly considering a road trip to Perth awaits in Round 2. The Jets won just four games last season but will take great confidence from an F3 Derby win which could easily have ended in a goalless stalemate in past seasons – but not this time, thanks to the clutch goalscoring prowess of Melina Ayres.

Mariners head coach Emily Husband, meanwhile, will recalibrate before a road trip to face Adelaide United in Round 2.

The F3 Derby was an evenly-poised contest that could truly have gone either way; the Liberty A-League newcomers have no need to tear up the tactics book, but Husband will be hoping to see more created in the final third after her side mustered just one shot on target against the Jets.