Western United’s bid to snare the premiers plate has suffered a huge blow with 17-year-old rising star Garang Kuol scoring a late winner to guide Central Coast to a 1-0 victory in Gosford.
Kuol showed maturity beyond his years by calmly controlling the ball while surrounded by defenders before guiding home a left-foot strike to break the deadlock in the 81st minute of Saturday’s match.
United would have moved up to top spot on the A-League Men ladder if they had come away with victory.
But the loss leaves them in third, meaning they must rely on other results to fall their way if they are to finish the season top.
Ladder leaders Melbourne City, who are two points clear of John Aloisi’s side, are now in the box seat to finish first with just two games remaining.
The Mariners’ third win on the trot lifted them to fifth, four points clear of seventh-placed Macarthur FC.
For Mariners fans, Kuol is already somewhat of a cult hero after scoring three goals in his first six ALM games.
For United, the Kuol family has proven to be a major thorn.
Last year, Kuol’s older brother Alou scored two goals in the space of four minutes to lead the Mariners to a 3-2 win.
This time it was Garang’s turn to sink United.
“It was fitting he did that tonight,” Mariners coach Nick Montgomery said.
“When he came on I said to him, ‘Your brother did the same thing against Western, he came off the bench and scored two goals to win the game’.
“The kid is lethal in and around the box. He only needs one chance.
“He showed the older boys how to do it, because we had a lot of chances tonight and couldn’t quite capitalise.”
The visitors were dealt a blow in the ninth minute when midfielder Steven Lustica suffered a game-ending calf injury.
Mariners striker Jason Cummins came close to breaking the deadlock in the 20th minute when his powerful shot from 26 yards out struck the base of the upright.
There was plenty of drama in the second half with a disallowed goal and a penalty decision that was reversed.
Mariners striker Moresche powered the ball into the back of the net in the 61st minute but his celebrations were short lived, after the VAR showed the ball had rolled out just before Beni N’Kololo produced the cut-back pass.
United endured their own disappointment on 68 minutes when they were awarded a penalty before VAR decided Connor Pain had actually been brought down just outside the box.
Ultimately Kuol proved to be the hero and it was a deserved win for the Mariners who ended the game with 19 shots to seven.
“I thought we struggled from start to finish physically … We just looked heavy, and that’s normally not like us,” Aloisi said.