OLIVER Bozanic celebrated his 23rd birthday in style by scoring the winner in Central Coast Mariners' 1-0 victory over NSW rivals Sydney FC at the SFS on Sunday.
The win took the Mariners unbeaten streak to 12 matches, while the Sky Blues' woes continue after suffering their third successive defeat.
A lone goal from midfielder Bozanic proved the difference in a match dominated by the Mariners in the opening half, with Sydney's second-half revitalisation proving to be in vain.
As has often been the case this season, Sydney FC conceded an early goal with the Mariners scoring in their first attacking foray of note on just nine minutes.
Pedj Bojic was allowed too much latitude down the right flank and his low cross seemed certain to be cut out only for Bernie Ibini's dummy to open up space for Bozanic, who slotted home with the help of a deflection off an unfortunate Rhyan Grant.
Ibini could easily have given the league leaders a two-goal margin on the quarter-hour mark with the youngster bursting clear of a ponderous defence only for Liam Reddy to shut down the onrushing attacker.
From the ensuing corner Patrick Zwaanswijk powered a header over the crossbar with the home side's defence again all at sea.
Sydney were completely devoid of rhythm in the opening half and veteran Dutch defender Zwaanswijk was at it again seconds prior to the interval, with his downward header this time bundled off the line by Terry Antonis.
The Mariners departed the field voicing complaints that the ball was handled by Antonis, while the home side went to the sheds amid jeers from some of their supporters.
Sydney started the second half with renewed vigour and Ryan was soon forced to dive bravely at Nicky Carle's feet and deny the No.10 who had deftly exchanged passes with Antonis.
The fluency and pace of the contest quickened providing openings at either end, and, while it was Sydney that were starting to enjoy the majority of possession, it was the Mariners that enjoyed the best chance.
Ibini was denied by a miraculous close-range block at the far post from Reddy after a perfect low cross from Troy Hearfield just past the hour mark.
Sydney then seemed set to draw level after Carle's shot from an acute angle fell to Mark Bridge, but the half-time substitute could only direct an awkward effort the wrong side of the post.
The win lifted the Mariners a remarkable eight points clear at the top and with a match in hand over nearest challengers Brisbane Roar.
Third-placed Melbourne Heart will have a chance to make an inroad into the Mariners' lead when they tackle Gold Coast United this evening.
Sydney FC 0
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Bozanic 9')