Western United fell to a 4-0 defeat against Central Coast Mariners in the Isuzu UTE A-League Men on Friday night.
Three of the four goals came in the first half to sink United’s hopes bouncing back from a luckless run of results.
Set pieces proved the key with three of Central Coast’s goals coming from corners to give them the victory.
There was just the one change to the starting XI as John Aloisi brought Riku Danzaki back in on the left-hand side of midfield to replace Ramy Najjarine.
Michael Ruhs returned to the bench against his former side while fellow ex-Mariners Lachie Wales and Tom Heward-Belle lined up from the start.
It was an energetic start but unlike the previous few games, United was second-best in the opening exchanges and fell behind in the 11th minute when Dan Hall headed home from a corner.
There was action at both ends minutes later as Central Coast countered from a United corner, drawing Heward-Belle into a fantastic save with his feet to deny Miguel Di Pizio.
Western United promptly bounced up the other end and had an equally big chance when Wales found Noah Botic in space but the young striker’s first touch just let him down, although he was still able to get two shots away – the first a powerful drive within Danny Vukovic’s proximity, and the second over the crossbar on the rebound.
The visitors once again looked comfortable with the ball but susceptible without it and corners were a particular weakness as the Mariners doubled their lead from another set-piece delivery.
This one had an added slice of fortune to it as Brian Kaltak leapt at the back post, spinning in mid air and looping the ball over Heward-Belle with the top of this back.
With two early goals, the Mariners were able to settle into the game and largely dictate proceedings as United were forced to play catch-up, trying to push the tempo and create things going forward.
That led to the team being open at the back when Central Coast countered and the hosts capitalised on the space with a third before half-time as Marco Tulio bent a superb effort into the top corner off the crossbar.
Aloisi made a trio of substitutions at the break with Ramy Najjarine, Nikita Rukavytsya and Sebastian Pasquali all coming on and looking to increase the tempo.
Rukavytsya had an early attempt at his first Western United goal and Central Coast continued to threaten going the other way. Heward-Belle made another good save from Di Pizio who nearly forced Ben Garuccio into an own goal when a deflection looped onto the crossbar.
Western United had all the possession in the second half but the sting had just about been taken out of the game by the three first-half goals.
United never stopped looking to push and prove in possession but once the Mariners fell into their defensive structure, it was difficult to break the home side down and create any significant chances.
The closest the Green and Black came was an Angus Thurgate strike from just outside the box which bent narrowly wide of the top left corner.
Central Coast added an extra punctuation mark eight minutes from time, taking advantage of another corner as Alou Kuol finished from virtually on the goal line after Jacob Farrell had hit the crossbar.
The Mariners ran away with it and hit the woodwork twice more in the dying stages, consigning Western United to defeat ahead of another Friday night clash against Brisbane Roar next week.