Victory outclass Mariners

A scintillating seven-minute spell in the second half has helped Melbourne Victory return to the top of the Hyundai A-League with a 3-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners at Telstra Dome on Friday night.

A scintillating seven-minute spell in the second half has helped Melbourne Victory return to the top of the Hyundai A-League with a 3-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners at Telstra Dome on Friday night.

In a match that was scoreless for the first 67 minutes, in-form striker Danny Allsopp gave the home side the lead, before Carlos Hernandez and Archie Thompson increased Victory-s advantage in the blink of an eye as the home side moved in for the kill.

The Mariners toiled hard for the first two-thirds of the game, but they couldn-t quell Thompson-s pace up front and the sublime skill of Hernandez in the middle of the park after the Costa Rican international was brought on for the final half an hour.

Melbourne now sits alone on 35 points at the head of the A-League, with Adelaide (34) and Queensland (30) the only teams that can overtake them.

Melbourne enjoyed the better of the early exchanges and Allsopp could have almost given his side the lead after four minutes.

Allsopp intercepted an errant pass in the midfield and went on a dashing run forward, but his strike shaved the upright and went wide for a goal kick.

Some quick thinking from Billy Celeski after 22 minutes almost caught the Mariners defence out as the Victory midfielder played a lovely ball to Thompson inside the box.

Thompson gathered the ball on the edge of the box, but his attempt was deflected out for a Victory corner.

As the half wore on Central Coast began to win more possession and they could have hurt Victory on the break on more than one occasion if not for some stoic defending from Kevin Muscat and Rody Vargas.

Nik Mrdja, Matt Simon and Andre Gumprecht were causing Victory-s defence some worry, but it remained scoreless at half-time as the teams headed for a well earned break.

It didn-t take long for things to heat up in the second half, but it was the visitors that were winning the ball in midfield and creating the better opportunities.

Simon missed a gilt-edged opportunity after John Hutchinson found him with a lovely cross and then moments later Andrew Clark was left unopposed at the back post, but his header was wide.

Victory coach Ernie Merrick sensed his team was being outplayed and he reacted quickly by bringing on Hernandez for Ney Fabiano on the hour mark.

The Costa Rican international had his shouts for a penalty turned away by referee Peter Green and he was in the thick of things just two minutes later as Nick Ward nearly scored from a corner.

Danny Vukovic pulled out a world class save to deny Ward, but Victory went back on the attack and were rewarded for their efforts when Allsopp scored the simplest of tap-ins after some excellent lead-up work from Thompson.

Thompson used his pace to outwit two defenders and then fired in a cross to the back post that only required Allsopp to poke home.

Merrick looked like a genius just three minutes later when Hernandez doubled Victory-s advantage when he fired home a trademark free kick from the edge of the box.

There may have been claims that the foul on Hernandez was inside the box, but it mattered little as he fired the free kick through the Mariners- wall and nutmeged Vukovic to score.

And with the crowd still chanting after the wonderful strike from Hernandez, there was a third goal on the board for the home side four minutes later as Thompson scored his seventh goal of the campaign.

Allsopp headed on a long ball to Thompson, who duly used all his guile and pace to sidestep the Mariners defence and beat Vukovic at his near post.

Central Coast was reduced to 10 men for the last five minutes of the contest when Dean Heffernan was sent-off for an errant elbow on Muscat as the pain continued to build up for the visitors.

Hernandez nearly scored a fourth for Melbourne from another free kick, but it mattered little as the home side won a fifth straight home match and returned to the A-League summit in style.

Melbourne Victory 3 (Allsopp 68-, Hernandez 71-, Thompson 75-) Central Coast Mariners 0

Telstra Dome, Melbourne Crowd: 24.003 Friday 16 January 2009 Referee: Peter Green