The Mariners twice took the lead, but needed to stay alert after the sending off of Zwaanswijk early in the second half encouraged Victory to search for a winner
|By BREN O'BRIEN
The ten-man Central Coast Mariners have held on for a hard-fought 2-2 draw against in-form Melbourne Victory at Etihad Stadium.
While Victory had twice come from behind to equalise, it was the Mariners who felt they had taken more from the A-League match after the visitors had experienced Patrick Zwaanswijk sent off with 40 minutes left.
Earlier, Daniel McBreen had given the Mariners the lead in the fourth and 22 minutes either side of Andrew Nabbout's headed goal.
Mark Milligan levelled the scores six minutes before half-time and Victory had the momentum when they were handed the momentum thanks to Zwaanswijk's indiscretion.
With the match deadlocked at 2-2, the Mariners threw everything into neutralising the match in an attempt to rescue the point and did so after surviving some minor scares late in the match, with Victory's missed opportunity made to sting even more after Marcos Flores' late dismissal.
The result sees Central Coast lose top spot but they remain within two points of competition pace-setters Adelaide, while Victory draw level with fourth-placed Perth Glory
McBreen continued his wonderful vein of scoring form, profiting from a classic piece of counter-attack from the Mariners, who within 15 seconds were thanking Marco Rojas for his profligacy and then were celebrating the opener.
A lobbed ball from Tom Rogic set veteran Mile Sterjovksi free down the left and he side-footed a clever cross to McBreen, who finished well.
Rogic was causing Victory's defence all sorts of headaches early on and in the seventh minute he beat three players and set up Sterjovski, whose header was tipped over by busy Victory goalkeeper Nathan Coe
Victory figured attack was the best form of defence and Rojas took a lead from Rogic, skinning several Mariners down the left and delivering a cross for Nabbout to steer home for his third goal in two games
The youngster's headed finish was all class, getting the home side back on level terms inside ten minutes.
Rojas and Rogic continued to torment the respective defences, but it was McBreen who was again on the scoresheet, thanks to another rapid long ball from the Mariners' defence.
The 35-year-old showed surprising turn of foot to completely embarrass Petar Franjic, leaving him on the edge of the box and then powering home a finish to stun the home crowd for the second time in the opening 22 minutes.
But Victory equalised against the run of play on 39 minutes when Nabbout won a free kick down the right. Isaka Cernak floated in a dangerous free kick and Milligan slipped in at the near post unmarked to make in 2-2.
The key moment of the second half came within five minutes of the resumption when Zwaanswijk contested a high ball against Flores with his arm raised. He made contact with the back of the Argentine's head and received a second booking and a red card.
It completely changed the nature of the Mariners' approach to the match, with Zach Anderson introduced for the dangerous Rogic in a bid to neutralise the Victory's one-man advantage.
With the Mariners caught in a rear-guard motion, the home side attacked furiously but without reward for the next 40 minutes.
Their best chance in that period fell to Rojas, who cleverly dispossessed the Mariners' defence inside the six yard box, spun around two players and beat Mat Ryan with his shot only for Pedj Bojic to clear off the line.
The pressure amounted to nothing except frustration for the home side with Flores' petulant challenge and subsequent booking on the cusp of full-time summing up the home side's sense of two points lost.