A NIK Mrdja hat trick inside an hour has helped Central Coast Mariners National Youth League team to a 6-0 thumping of Newcastle Jets at EnergyAustralia Stadium.
The Mariners took a 2-0 lead into half time, but were ruthless in the second half as they extended their unbeaten run to six games, and move, temporarily at least, to second spot on the NYL ladder.
"I'm happy for the boys. We're unbeaten, three wins and three draws is a great start, and we think we have a lot of improving to do, so happy days," said Mariners NYL coach Tony Walmsley.
"With youth players they give you a lot of energy, and you try to channel it to help them get the best out of themselves, and today was one of those days where first team players aside, the youth boys did exceptionally well."
The Mariners made their intentions clear early on as they looked to continue their charge up the ladder, Brady Smith heading over the bar on seven minutes, before Matthew Lewis slid a ball agonizingly across the face of goal, after being put through by Ahmad Elrich down the left flank.
A dangerous free kick from Mariners' skipper Panni Nikas was headed clear by Umut Tokdogan as the visitors pushed for an opener, and the early dominance was rewarded on 20 minutes.
Nathan Sherlock played a ball out of the danger zone to Brady Smith, who used plenty of space through midfield to feed Ahamd Elrich, the former Qantas Socceroo playing a lovely ball over the top, allowing Nik Mrdja to take a touch and finish one-on-one past Robbie Kolak.
Andrew Redmayne was being kept busy as he made several fine saves in the Mariners' goal, unfortunately for Newcastle, Kolak wasn't having as good a time of it.
Mrdja took the ball to the byline and cut back for Elrich, to finish coolly past the Jets' custodian.
Redmayne was again in the thick of it, making a crucial double save to block Jason Naidovski and Donny De Groot, and ensure the two-goal advantage would remain in tact at the break.
The lead was extended shortly after the break when David D'Apuzzo sent a left-footed rocket cannoning into the post, the rebound falling favourably into the path of Mrdja, who volleyed home from 10 yards.
Two minutes later and Central Coast had their fourth of the afternoon, Shane Huke making a well-timed run to head home a corner.
Mrdja completed his hat-trick on 59 minutes as he tapped home a good ball in from the right, to inflict more pain on the hosts, but the Mariners had a setback of their own soon after, as Huke was given an early bath by referee Kurt Ams after receiving his second booking.
It didn't seem to slow the yellow and navy though, who made it six when David Gullo looped a cross in over the head of Kolak, allowing an outstretched Nick Fitzgerald to finish into an empty net, and complete the rout.
Despite the goal blitz, Walmsley was even more pleased with the way his side defended.
"We really set out for a clean sheet today, so even though we scored some fantastic goals, I'm most happy with the clean sheet." he said. "In particular Nathan Sherlock and Manny Giannaros at centre backs were fantastic.
"We've been looking for a combination to give us some stability, we use the word stability a lot, and those two today were fantastic. As young players they need to be able to maintain that, and we'd be looking at them to do the same next week."
With four over-age players and another three senior squad members involved, the young Mariners benefited from being able to learn valuable lessons from their more experienced teammates.
Walmsley added: "They're probably not quite aware of what a good learning curve it is, they get accelerated learning when they play with the overage players and the youth league is all about that.
"This is the first time the Mariners have had everybody available in both squads, and those underage lads that played today got the opportunity to not only play Youth League but to play with the first team players, and you can't speak highly enough of that accelerated learning.
"The midfield did a really good job, David D'Apuzzo who has dropped down from the first team today worked his backside off on the left, Panni Nikas was outstanding, his football brain showed tonight, he was very clever one on one. (Andrew) Clark was the only overage player in midfield playing in a different role, and the guys who played around him did exceptionally well.
"Tactically they have a lot to learn but when it worked, it worked very well."
Mrdja's hat-trick inside an hour would certainly give Football Manager Lawrie McKinna plenty of food for thought as he continues to search for a regular front pairing.
"(Nik) Mrdja can't do any more than bang goals in for the youth team and we all know at first team level we a re struggling to score goals up front, and it puts pressure on them," Walmsley said.
"It gives those boys incentive, and hopefully they can bang a couple of goals in, because that's what you want, a healthy forward line, training well, scoring goals in the youth team, and hopefully kicking on into the first team as well.
"Ahmad (Elrich) playing off Mrdja at the front did an outstanding job, so if the point of the diamond (in the first team) becomes vacant, I'd have no hesitation in recommending Lawrie McKinna put Ahmad in, because he did a great job."
Central Coast Mariners 1. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk) (20. Nik MATIC (gk) 61'), 2. Nathan SHERLOCK, 3. David D'APUZZO, 5. Shane HUKE, 6. Manny GIANNAROS, 9. Nik MRDJA (17. David GULLO 61'), 10. Panni NIKAS (c), 11. Matthew LEWIS, 12. Andrew CLARK (7. Brendan GRIFFIN 61'), 14. Brady SMITH, 18. Ahmad ELRICH (8. Nick FITZGERALD 46').
Unused Subs Nil.
Yellow Cards Huke 50', 68', Giannaros 82'
Red Cards Huke 68'
Goals Mrdja 20', 53, 59', Elrich 36', Huke 55', Fitzgerald 73'
Newcastle Jets 1. Robbie KOLAK (gk), 2. Jarrad ROSS, 3. Matthew SIM, 4. Umut TOKDOGAN, 5. Jesse PINTO, 6. Taylor REGAN (c), 7. Damian BROSQUE, 8. Jason HOFFMAN, 9. Donny DE GROOT (14. Mirjan PAVLOVIC 57'), 10. Jason NAIDOVSKI (13, James VIRGILI 57'), 11. Ali ABBAS (12. Adrian KARAKOLEVSKI 59').
Unused Subs 20. Dion SHAW (gk).
Yellow Cards Pinto 32', Pavlovic 80'
Red Cards None
Referee Kurt AMS