Melbourne Victory failed to make the most of their chances as a late Daniel McBreen penalty earned the Mariners a point in Tasmania.
|By DAMIEN SOUNESS
A-League leaders Central Coast Mariners came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory in a physical encounter at Aurora Stadium on Saturday.
Daniel McBreen's 77th-minute penalty earned the Mariners a share of the spoils after Marcos Flores handed Victory the lead in the first half.
Third-placed Victory, who conceded home advantage for what has become an annual game in Launceston, looked the stronger side but failed to hold on for the win in Archie Thompson's 150th appearance for the club.
Marco Rojas was left to rue a missed penalty for Victory that would have opened the scoring, while the Mariners were without coach Graham Arnold in the second half after he was sent to the stands following an exchange with referee Jarred Gillett.
Central Coast, aiming to become the first team in the short history of the league to successfully defend the Premiers' Plate, extended their lead on top of the ladder to two points ahead of second-placed Adelaide United.
The Mariners were on the back foot from the outset after midfielder Nick Montgomery was cautioned for a late challenge on Thompson.
Victory midfielder Mark Milligan then had Mat Ryan beat, though his shot from outside the box sailed wide of the target.
Rojas and Thompson were as lively as ever up front for Victory, while Flores, Spase Dilevski and Adama Traore continued to create options from the midfield and defence.
Central Coast had a rare chance when Kwasnik charged in on goal, but he was unable to find a way past a resilient Nathan Coe.
Victory should have broken the deadlock in the 18th minute when Rojas played a precise ball to Thompson, who uncharacteristically blasted his effort over the crossbar.
The Mariners attempted to work their way back into the contest but nearly went a goal down when a poor Montgomery challenge on Flores prompted the referee to point to the penalty spot.
But Rojas blasted the resultant spot kick into the upright to hand Central Coast a lifeline.
Arnold, perhaps worried about the challenge that led to the penalty, brought off Montgomery in just the 39th minute to reduce the risk of going a man down.
Central Coast instead went a goal down when Rojas played a ball into the box for the Traore, who cut the ball back for Flores to find the net with his weaker left boot.
Matters went from bad to worse for the Mariners on the stroke of the interval when Arnold was sensationally dismissed.
The Central Coast coach was forced to watch the second half from the stands and, despite being barred from communicating with the bench, was regularly seen using his mobile phone in a move that will likely came under scrutiny from Football Federation Australia.
Coe produced another brilliant save to deny Michael McGlinchey in the 63rd minute, while Ryan was just as impressive at the other end of the field to thwart Rojas.
The Mariners slowly clawed their way back into the contest and were rewarded with a penalty in the 77th minute when Leijer brought down McGlinchey.
McBreen made no mistake from the spot with his 13th goal of the season to level proceedings.
Josh Rose almost handed Mariners the lead in the 81st minute but failed to find the target as Victory introduced livewire Andrew Nabbout in search of a winner.
Milligan had a golden chance to secure three points from a superbly worked Celeski set piece but was unable to control his volley in front of goal.
Leijer then had a chance to make amends for conceding a penalty but headed his effort just wide of the target.