Western United produced another positive pre-season display on Sunday afternoon, defeating Central Coast Mariners 2-1 in a friendly behind closed doors at the NEC Hangar.
Despite dominating much of the first half, United found itself behind at the interval after Michael Ruhs’ late strike, but John Aloisi’s side would erase a deficit against A-League Men opposition for the third time this pre-season.
Jacob Tratt scored his second goal from a Nicolas Milanovic corner in five days before Lachie Wales teed up Connor Pain late on to give the Green and Black the win.
After a youthful side defeated Oakleigh Cannons during the week, Aloisi named a much more familiar looking starting XI to face A-League Men opposition.
New signing James Troisi slotted in behind Dylan Wenzel-Halls in attack with Dylan Pierias and Pain on either flank, while Jamie Young took up his place in goal behind the back four that worked so well together last season.
Western United immediately got on the offensive in the opening exchanges, with Pierias using his speed down the right-hand side to cause trouble on a couple of occasions.
One such instance saw the No.5 win a corner which was partially cleared into the path of Steven Lustica, whose effort through the crowd thundered into a couple of Central Coast bodies and away from danger.
Aloisi’s men looked comfortable in possession, trying to dictate play in the attacking half and put together a lovely passage of play around the 20th minute, ending with Pain firing off target from Lustica’s cut-back.
Troisi came closest when Wenzel-Halls set him up for a strong left-footed volley, but Danny Vukovic was in position to save and Wenzel-Halls then fired the rebound over the crossbar.
It took one moment for Central Coast to get into the contest as Ruhs robbed Tomoki Imai around the box before skimming a shot off the crossbar.
That saw the Mariners lift their intensity and they struck just before half-time against the run of play when Ruhs finished past Young after a lovely run down the left from Jacob Farrell.
Sam Silvera had the ball in the net for Central Coast early in the second half but was flagged offside as United continued to look confident in possession, with Tongo Doumbia slotting into midfield after the break.
Lachie Wales and Jacob Tratt entered the fray to freshen up the right-hand side of the pitch and linked up on a couple of occasions going forward but were unable to find a route to goal.
Nicolas Milanovic emerged off the bench soon after and having bagged a hat-trick and an assist against Oakleigh in midweek, the youngster had another match-deciding impact.
Mere minutes after coming on, Milanovic helped United win a corner with his pressure forcing Farrell to relinquish the ball over the line. The No.26 took the resultant set piece and whipped in a delightful ball onto Tratt’s head, the pair linking up for the second time this week to produce a goal.
Pain very nearly put United ahead shortly after when he almost lobbed the goalkeeper from just in front of halfway, whether inadvertently or not as Yaren Sozer had to push the ball over the crossbar with Wales lurking.
The No.11 got his chance a little closer to goal and Milanovic was again instrumental, losing his marker with a deft drop of the shoulder before feeding Wales down the right-wing.
Wales floated an inch-perfect cross towards the back post where Pain was arriving to thump the ball into the net for what proved to be the winner five minutes from time.
The Mariners upped the intensity in search of a late equaliser but United held firm, ensuring its pre-season record would remain unblemished with six wins and a draw from seven friendly matches, including two wins and a draw against A-League Men opposition.