A-League champions Melbourne Victory grabbed a dramatic point in the final seconds of an astonishing game to draw 3-3 with the A-League's bottom club Central Coast Mariners in front of just over 14,000 fans at Geelong's Simonds Stadium on Friday night.
Besart Berisha's stoppage-time equaliser, his second goal of the game, capped a remarkable comeback by the champions. Victory looked dead and buried when they went to the break 3-0 down against a Mariners side that played a brilliant counter-attacking game in the first 45 minutes.
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Victory come back to deny Mariners
Melbourne Victory produce a three-goal comeback to deny Central Coast in an A-League classic at Simonds Stadium.
To Victory's credit, they never gave up in a second half of high drama, but they still have a big job ahead if they are to defend the Premiers Plate that they won last season. This is a team that is playing in fits and starts, and has little of the consistency and threat that made them look so dangerous in the opening six weeks of the campaign.
The Mariners will go home feeling as if this was a defeat, such was their superiority at the interval. Tony Walmsley's side only won their second game of the season a week earlier, when they saw off Wellington, and no-one predicted that they could come south and get a draw.
Kevin Muscat's team threw everything at their desperate opponents in the second half and had pulled the score back to 3-2 with 24 minutes to play.
But frantic defending and scrambling at the back by the Mariners kept Victory at bay until Berisha struck.
Central Coast were fast, aggressive and athletic, tactically savvy and ruthless in front of goal in the first half.
Walmsley gave 18-year-old goalkeeper Thomas Heward-Belle another start following his full debut last week.
Players like Mitch Austin, Josh Bingham, Michael Neill, Jake McGing and Harry Ascroft are hardly household names, while New Zealand international full-back Storm Roux is not well-known either.
But he and his little-known colleagues rose to the occasion and played their best football of the season in a match that should have been staged at their own Bluetongue Stadium had it not been "sold" to Victory to stage an extra home match in regional Geelong.
The Mariners showed little fear from the outset although they did have Heward-Belle to thank in the opening minutes after the youngster dived to tip a Ben Khalfallah drive wide of the post.
The "visitors" took the lead in the 13th minute through defender Harry Ascroft, who rose highest of all from an Austin corner to head past Danny Vukovic.
Victory did not look too perturbed at that point, their fans assuming the champions could simply flex their muscles and stamp their class on their struggling opponents.
But they rarely looked like finding a way through the well set-up Mariners midfield and defence. Every time Victory tried to play through, they found the way blocked by a barricade of yellow shirts while the Mariners, with the speedy Fabio Ferreira and Austin on the flanks, were always dangerous, breaking with counter attacks.
Bingham doubled the advantage on the half-hour, when Ferreira picked up the ball centrally and played in the striker, who finished with aplomb.
Five minutes later the lead was stretched to three when Austin got on the scoresheet, finishing beautifully across Vukovic when played through by Bingham.
Victory got a lifeline back into the match when referee Peter Green pointed to the spot on the hour mark when Ascroft was judged to have brought down Kosta Barbarouses. Berisha despatched the penalty, and Victory had a sniff.
Kevin Muscat's side closed the gap still further six minutes later through substitute Archie Thompson. Barbarouses found space in a crowded penalty area to drive against the bar, Thompson putting away the rebound with a first time shot.
Victory attacked incessantly for the final 24 minutes, creating chance after chance to no avail. It seemed as if the Mariners would steal a famous triumph, until Berisha scored at the death.