Christmas came early for Josep Gombau on Saturday night when he received two gifts from 'Santa' to claim his first win as Western Sydney Wanderers coach, however the occasion was overshadowed by more farcical use of the Video Assistant Referee.
A goal and assist from veteran striker Brendon Santalab clinched the 2-0 win for the Wanderers over the Mariners at Central Coast Stadium to help the club bounce back immediately from their gut-wrenching derby defeat a week before.
A dominant performance was an emphatic response to questions about the Wanderers' leadership and Gombau's process - and could be the platform for a late resurgence this season. But much of that will only be remembered by those closest to the team. For the broader public, it was yet another game tarnished by the horrendous overuse of the VAR, which led to two red cards for the Mariners and referee Alex King being guided through his on-field decisions.
Despite only being called upon to correct clear and obvious errors, the VAR intervened twice to upgrade yellow cards to send-offs, killing off any hopes of a Central Coast comeback.
The Mariners, for their part, were aggrieved Santalab was allowed to stay on the park beyond the fifth minute after a very late challenge on Wout Brama was punished with a caution.
Over-zealous and poorly timed, it may have been, but Santalab was determined to prove a point after starting from the bench in the derby last week.
The veteran was on a mission to revive the Wanderers' season and after receiving a pass form Mark Bridge some 25 metres from goal, he pounced on generous defending to surge forward and fire a stinging shot past Mariners goalkeeper Ben Kennedy at his near post and into the corner of the net.
The travelling supporters were jubilant, however Santalab's celebration was a simple sigh of relief as it marked the Wanderers' first goal in more than a month and ended his personal 10-game search for a goal.
The Mariners were dumbfounded at how they couldn't find an equaliser before half-time after spurning gilt-edged chances and being denied by superb goalkeeping from Western Sydney's Vedran Janjetovic.
The 1-0 advantage became convincing immediately after the restart, Santalab turning provider and showing his experience to lure two defenders into his path before supplying a clever pass to Alvaro Cejudo, who made no mistake with a simple finish in front of the sauce bottles to make it 2-0 in the 50th minute.
If the Western Sydney bench was slightly subdued after their first goal, their second provided confidence and hope for the season, symbolised by Gombau's passionate celebrations. They took another step closer to securing a first win under his tenure when a controversial intervention from the VAR played into their hands.
Brama's foul from behind on Wanderers' Roly Bonevacia led to a yellow card for the Mariners midfielder before the VAR spoke into the earphone of referee King. After reviewing the footage, King decided to upgrade the punishment to a red card after noticing the studs of Brama had made contact with Bonevacia's calf, bringing into question the grey area of "clear and obvious errors".
But the worst was yet to come. A foul from Jake McGing on Western Sydney's Kearyn Baccus received a yellow card. However, the VAR brought play to a standstill once more and somehow found grounds for a dismissal, issuing a red card to McGing and reducing the Mariners to nine men. That final intervention effectively ended the game 13 minutes prematurely.