‘Exceptional’ Glory youngster stars after surprise selection in win over 10-man Mariners

Perth Glory v Central Coast Mariners - Highlights | Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 | Round 03

Stefan Colakovski’s vibrant start to the new Isuzu UTE A-League season continued with a goal off the bench to launch Perth Glory to a 2-0 win over Central Coast Mariners at HBF Park on Saturday night.

The 23-year-old’s 52nd-minute strike came after his half-time introduction and, coupled with Adam Taggart’s classy finish in stoppage time, sent Glory on the way to victory over the reigning Champions at home, aided by a red card to Angel Torres for his clumsy knock to the head of Glory defender Jacob Muir in the second half.

Mariners star Marco Tulio had the ball in the back of the net just before the hour mark, but the Mariners’ equaliser would not stand as the linesman’s flag was correctly raised for an offside on the Brazilian.

The 2-0 result was Central Coast’s third defeat in as many games under new Football Manager Mark Jackson in a trying start the season.

The Mariners had the best of the first-half chances, with Tulio and Christian Theoharous looking dangerous for the visitors.

But goalkeeper Cameron Cook – selected by Glory head coach Alen Stajcic ahead of high-profile off-season signing Oliver Sail – was immense for the home side, with a smart stop to prevent a thumping Nathan Paull attempt from finding the bottom-right corner the highlight of his first-half display.

Stajcic dipped into his bench at half-time, producing Colakovski and Bruce Kamau in place of Salim Khelifi and Jarrod Carluccio.

Seven minutes after the restart, the move paid dividends with Adam Taggart benefiting off a missed intercept from Brian Kaltak to feed Colakovski into the box to score.

Tulio found the back of the net soon after, but the offside flag denied him the equaliser after Jacob Farrell’s searching ball into the box.

Adam Taggart thought he’d iced the game for Glory in the 72nd minute when a creative touch from Daniel Bennie with back to goal sent the Socceroos striker steaming in on goal to finish; a VAR inquiry found Taggart was comfortably offside when the ball left Bennie’s boot.

But in the pause to chalk off Taggart’s goal, VAR Casey Reibelt found an offence from Torres and suggested referee Shaun Evans take a closer look.

His review on the pitch-side monitor found Torres had hit Glory defender Jacob Muir on the side of the head after a tangle of bodies, and Evans decided off the evidence presented to give the Mariners forward his marching orders.

Despite going down to 10 men, the Mariners went close to finding an equaliser when Theoharous unloaded from range; it called Cook into his best save of the night, leaping backward to tip the ball over the bar.

The stellar stop kept Perth on top – and deep into stoppage time, Taggart put the result beyond doubt. Substitute Riley Warland picked him out on the edge of the box, and his sharp touch led to a quick-fire finish that launched off a deflection into the back of the net.

The talking point

A third defeat in as many games for Central Coast Mariners is the equal-worst start to a season from a defending Champion in Isuzu UTE A-League history, level with Brisbane Roar from the 2014-15 season. The Roar lost their first four games in that season after lifting the Championship trophy the season prior.

Mariners captain Danny Vukovic spoke post-game about seeing improvement over the opening three weeks of the season – but not enough of it.

The star

A surprise inclusion on the Glory teamsheet was 22-year-old Cameron Cook, who replaced off-season signing Oli Sail in goal after a tough start to life in Perth for the New Zealand international.

Cook was first-choice under former Glory boss Ruben Zadkovich, but was expected to drop into a backup role this season with Alen Stajcic at the helm and Sail in the squad.

But after a challenging opening to the season for Sail, Stajcic made a statement with his Round 3 selection – and Cook was immense from start to finish in a clean sheet display, with a late save to deny Christian Theoharous a highlight moment.

What they said

After watching his young goalkeeper impress against the Mariners, Glory head coach Stajcic said the opportunity was there for Cook to make the position his, despite the presence of Sail in the squad.

“For a young kid to come in, (with the) nerves and pressure of stepping up for the first time this year, he’s got an opportunity to be number one, it’s a lot of pressure on a young man.

“It’s almost harder than the first time you come in. He knows what’s on the line now, and I thought he had an exceptional game.”

Cook expressed his elation at his selection in Round 3, expressing his intention to make the No.1 role his own moving forward.

“I’m thrilled to be back in the squad, back playing again, it’s good to know (Stajcic) has got the belief in me to play, and to step up when I’m needed,” he said. “I’m just looking to hold that spot, pretty much.

“The best way to look at it is it’s a really good challenge. To have the old manager (Zadkovich) believe in me and play me, and then to have my first start this season is a good sign for me.

“It’s given me the confidence to essentially battle for a position with someone like Oli Sail. I just want to tussle (for) that position this season.”

What it means 

Pressure escalates for the Mariners to lift under new Football Manager Jackson after a trying start to the new season. A road trip to face Bali United in the AFC Cup presents on Wednesday night before a return home to take on Brisbane Roar.

For Perth, a tough three-game road trip is on the cards after two of three home games to start the season. Perth face Western Sydney, Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC on the road from Rounds 4-6.