CENTRAL COAST Mariners coach Graham Arnold was sensationally sent from the field but his team rallied without him to earn a draw with Melbourne Victory at Aurora Stadium on Saturday.
Arnold received his marching orders just before half-time for what appeared to be comments directed at match officials. Referee Jarred Gillett banished him to the stands after conferring with his linesman soon after Arnold's side had gone a goal down. The Victory dominated the first half but only had Marcos Flores's 42nd-minute goal to show for their efforts.
Some subtle half-time tweaks led to a much-improved second half from the Mariners, and they were back on level terms with 13 minutes remaining thanks to a Daniel McBreen penalty.
Victory skipper Adrian Leijer's clumsy challenge, which bundled over Michael McGlinchey, earned the spot kick after the Mariners had lifted markedly in the second half and pressed hard for an equaliser.
Elsewhere, in a tense game, there was a missed Victory penalty - Marco Rojas shaving the post with a poor first-half effort - and world-class saves from Mariners goalkeeper Mat Ryan and Victory's Nathan Coe. But the Victory will rue not putting the league leaders to the sword in the first half, playing superb football but missing several good chances.
After a week in which numerous Mariners' players have been linked with moves abroad, the team spent the first half looking exactly like a shop window - full of mannequins, as Victory pinned them deep in their own territory for virtually the entire first 45 minutes.
Rojas's missed spot kick and a horrible point-blank miss from Archie Thompson came back to bite them.
Much of the Victory's fluidity drained away in the second half as the Mariners found more rhythm.
Both goalkeepers made extraordinary saves midway through the second half - Coe first pulling off a magic reflex save to deny McGlinchey on 63 minutes. Then two minutes later, Ryan twice stopped Rojas - the second time twisting mid-air to turn over the New Zealander's audacious chip.
The Mariners have a two-point lead atop the table, with the Victory remaining third.