Western United fell to a 3-0 defeat against Central Coast Mariners at Mars Stadium in Ballarat on Saturday afternoon.
The Green and Black started the game well but Central Coast hit the front before half-time with goals from Jason Cummings and Beni Nkololo.
United searched for a way back into the match but a frustrating afternoon was complete when Dylan Wenzel-Halls scored Central Coast’s third in injury time.
John Aloisi made two changes to the starting XI with Josh Risdon and Noah Botic returning to the side in the hope of continuing their respective strong runs of form.
Aleksandar Prijovic missed out due to illness while Dylan Pierias kept his place on the right-hand side with Lachie Wales resuming in the No.10 position.
Both teams began the game quickly, trading counter attacks and looking to open up the opposition defence in search of an early opening goal.
Wales, Pierias and Connor Pain picked up where they left off last week with a number of tidy combinations going forward while Botic looked lively against Central Coast’s last line.
United looked to press the Mariners high up and forced a turn over when an errant pass went straight to Botic, but Pierias’ shot was quickly shut down when the United striker fed him through.
Pierias was involved again when he found space on the right-wing, using Wales’ run as a decoy to allow him to cut inside and shoot on his left foot, but the effort rolled just wide of the right-hand post.
Central Coast’s best move came when they were able to play through United’s press as Nkololo beat Risdon and squared it to Marco Tulio, but his sliding shot was saved brilliantly by the feet of Jamie Young.
It wasn’t much longer until the Mariners had the lead though as they caught United open on the counter. Tulio sprayed a long switch to Sam Silvera who bided his time before teeing up Cummings to finish from close range in the 21st minute.
The visitors would make it 2-0 soon after the half hour mark when Nkololo found the bottom corner from outside the 18-yard box, much to United’s dismay.
A lengthy VAR review followed the goal but Jonathan Barreiro upheld his original decision despite what appeared to be a foul on Risdon in the build-up.
United continued to push on while trailing with a number of other half chances but there was no goal forthcoming, leaving work to be done in the second half.
Central Coast threatened to blow the game open in the initial exchanges in the second half, creating a couple of clear openings as Cummings and Nkololo continued to cause danger.
Silvera found the net with a cute back-heeled finish which was quickly ruled out for offside, while Cummings had another effort blocked.
United weathered that storm and turned its attention to find a goal to get back into the contest, but Central Coast’s defensive structure remained resolute.
The Green and Black was largely unable to create opportunities with the same regularity and danger as the first-half, and Central Coast became comfortable in their defensive structure as they sought to hold onto the win.
Cummings scored another offside goal for the visitors before the result was capped off at the beginning of injury time when Wenzel-Halls scored off the bench.