Ross McCormack has jumped to the top of the A-League scorers charts, claiming the only goal in Melbourne City’s 1-0 defeat of Central Coast Mariners in its first match since the exit of Tim Cahill.
In the week after City tore up Cahill’s contract as the Socceroo sought more match time, the striker preferred by Warren Joyce did the business at AAMI Park on Sunday night.
McCormack struck after 59 minutes, finishing a sumptuous piece of direct play that began with Dean Bouzanis.
Bouzanis, retained in goal despite Eugene Galekovic’s return to fitness, found Luke Brattan with a 60-metre pass, allowing the midfielder to play McCormack through on goal.
The Scottish marksman made no mistake with a side-foot finish, ending a run of City near misses and scoring his first goal from open play for City.
The goal gave City a first home win since October, consolidating its last-up win and third place on the A-League table and denying Central Coast a third-straight win.
McCormack’s goal takes the Scot to seven for the season, drawing him level with Roy O’Donovan and Andrija Kaluderovic in the race for the golden boot.
McCormack headed a Brattan corner across goal on eight minutes but was denied by Daniel De Silva’s goal-line clearance.
Stefan Mauk made a hash of the follow-up, volleying straight at a grounded Ben Kennedy, before butchering another golden chance.
The 22-year-old was on the end of a counter-attack with Nick Fitzgerald and McCormack, only to shoot tamely at Kennedy.
The Mariners survived raid after raid on their goal, with teenage debutant Nathaniel Atkinson proving a tricky customer on the right.
Atkinson, 18, was included at the expense of Polish marquee Marcin Budzinski and enjoyed several nice moments on his first senior appearance.
Substitute Blake Powell and De Silva gave Bouzanis work, before the Mariners’ best chance of the match fell to Connor Pain in injury time.
The winger was set to thump home an effort at the back post before Mauk’s last-ditch block kept City’s lead in tact for the final whistle.
City can now prepare for a marquee Friday night meeting with competition leaders Sydney FC, while the Mariners – who remain fifth – tackle Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday night.