Western Sydney and under-fire coach Josep Gombau emerged from the depths of A-League despair, claiming a first win in 10 games over nine-man Central Coast. But Saturday night's improved performance was blighted by yet more contentious use of the video assistant referee (VAR), which prompted referee Alex King to upgrade two second-half yellow cards to reds for the Mariners' Wout Brama and Jake McGing.
The Wanderers' response in Gosford was lively and Brendon Santalab the star of the 2-0 show, complementing his first goal of the season with an assist for Alvaro Cejudo to end the club's six goalless hours of football.
After the selection bombshells of last week's Sydney derby disaster, all eyes were fixed on Gombau's latest teamsheet. Michael Thwaite, Raul Llorente and Jumpei Kusukami were recalled, this time at the expense of Kearyn Baccus and Robbie Cornthwaite, the captain omitted for missing a training session.
Santalab, handed his first start ahead of benched Oriol Riera, threw himself about and made his presence known in the box, unlucky to miss Josh Risdon's cross. It did not matter. By the 27th minute, Santalab had reason to celebrate -- and the finish was worth the wait.
Mark Bridge outran -- then out-weaved -- three defenders before picking out Santalab. From 20 metres out, he took two settling touches and swung his right boot through with such vigour that Ben Kennedy's diving effort was ineffectual.
The Mariners were made to work hard but, under pressure, penetrated their visitors' high press in an agonisingly close chance. Andrew Hoole pinged the ball to McGing, the right-back floating a cross towards Danny De Silva at the back post, only for Vedran Janjetovic to get the slightest of diverting touches just in time.
A few minutes later, Janjetovic made another vital intervention, this time an outstretched leap to deny a speculative Connor Pain.
Central Coast were far from disgraced and threatened on the counter-attack, but Western Sydney made their opportunities count. Nineteen-year-old Keanu Baccus, preferred by Gombau in holding midfield over older brother Kearyn, burst free and gifted an excellent ball to Santalab, whose square slice allowed Cejudo to drive home.
By the time De Silva had bent the ball narrowly wide of the side netting, the Mariners were getting frustrated. But nothing compared to Paul Okon's fury at the VAR.
The home coach shrieked "who's up there?" when -- after Brama was yellow carded for scraping Roly Bonevacia's calf -- a review led to referee Alex King changing his decision to red.
The 78th minute brought an identical episode, although the protagonists had changed. McGing was shown yellow for a sliding challenge on Baccus senior, before a review resulted in an upgrade to red, triggering an explosion from the Mariners' bench as strength and conditioning coach Balder Berckmans was given his marching orders.