Western United’s ruthless display against the Central Coast Mariners has come at a cost with the side losing captain Alessandro Diamanti to injury.
The home side showed zero signs of complacency coming off the bye – putting the nail in the coffin with three opening half goals, to consolidate their place inside the top six.
Though as clinical as the performance was from Western United, it poses a big question as to whether they will be able to maintain this form without Diamanti.
The Italian star got the side on its way early in the piece, combining with Berisha to open the scoring in the sixth minute.
It was a goal worthy of a thousand replays as Diamanti swung in a faultless ball into Berisha who, standing on the penalty spot, out-jumped Ziggy Gordon to meet the ball perfectly and header it over Mark Birighitti, who was standing off his line.
While the Mariners were quick to hit back – as Milan Duric tried his luck with an audacious attempt from distance, which was brought down comfortably by Filip Kurto – they were unable to stop this bullish and determined Western United side.
The home side doubled its lead just 12 minutes after opening the scoring, as Connor Pain’s low ball into the box fell to fellow wing-back Josh Risdon, whose attempt took a strong deflection off Mariners defender Kye Rowles into the back of the net.
Rowles’ afternoon would exacerbate just two minutes later when Berisha’s attempt flew off the Mariners defender into the back of the net for a second time, with Max Burgess picking up the assist and Berisha his eighth for the season.
The goal notched up the Kosovan’s 18th against the Mariners, with his sixth minute goal also being his side’s earliest ever goal.
Western United’s flawless first half was soured by an injury to Diamanti – who was replaced by Dario Jertec in the 30th minute.
The home side thought they had scored a fourth time when Pain was rewarded for his persistence – cutting inside the box from the left wing to strike the ball into the bottom corner, only for it to be controversially ruled offside by the linesman and confirmed by the VAR.
In just his second start for Western United, Max Burgess nearly added his name to scoresheet on the cusp of half-time – with the former Phoenix forward cutting onto his right foot on the edge of the area, only for his attempt to be routinely saved by Birighitti.
With a herculean task in front of them, Mariners forward Jordan Murray attempted a spectacular overhead bicycle kick just before the break, which excited the local crowd.
The former APIA striker continued this momentum into the second half but was again unable to hit the target as his header from Tommy Oar’s cross went wide.
Meanwhile Burgess continued impress at the other end, combining well with a surging Pain down the left wing to set up Panagiotis Kone – who struck the centre of the cross bar with a right footed attempt in the 55th minute.
Murray would have another opportunity go begging in the 61st minute, when his right footed strike across his body took a deflection of Jertec and Kurto, before the Polish goalkeeper jumped on top of the ball as it trickled onto the goal-line.
The win gives Western United some breathing room inside the top six, ahead of their first home match at the Whitten Oval next week against Adelaide United.
As for the Mariners a home match against the Brisbane Roar looms, as they continue their fight up their table in search of consistency and their first finals appearance since 2013/14.
Western United 3 (Berisha 6′ & 21′ Rowles 18′ (OG))
Central Coast Mariners 0
Fillip Kurto (GK), Jonathan Aspropotamitis, Andrew Durante, Oskar Dillon, Josh Risdon (Dylan Pierias 82′) Jerry Skotadis, Panagiotis Kone (Apostolos Stamatelopoulos 70′), Connor Pain, Alessandro Diamanti (C) (Dario Jertec 30’), Besart Berisha, Max Burgess
Ryan Scott (GK), Josh Cavallo, Seb Pasquali, Thiel Iradukunda
Central Coast Mariners
Mark Birighitti (GK), Ziggy Gordon, Kim Eun-Sun, Milan Duric, Jordan Murray, Tommy Oar (C), Daniel De Silva (Michael McGlinchey 61’), Kye Rowles, Gianni Stensness, Lewis Miller (Jack Clisby 73′), Jair (Matt Simon 57’)
Adam Pearce (GK), Giancarlo Gallifuoco,