Central Coast has scored twice in the last four minutes to snatch a 2-2 draw with Sydney FC on Saturday to further dent the Sky Blues Hyundai A-League finals hopes.
The Sky Blues appeared to be cruising towards a vital three points after first half goals to George Blackwood – his first in the A-League – and Shane Smeltz had them 2-0 up at the break.
But they capitulated in the dying minutes with Roy O’Donovan pulling one back before a shocking Vedran Janjetovic error allowed Harry Ascroft to equalise in stoppage time.
The result could be a dagger blow to Sydney FC’s top six hopes, remaining two points outside the finals spots with Melbourne Victory having a chance to extend that gap against Newcastle on Sunday.
0-1 Blackwood (11’) – The Sky Blues youngster drove at the heart of the defence before cutting back onto his right foot. Blackwood was just outside the box when he got his shot away and with the aid of a slight deflection it wrong-footed keeper Paul Izzo to squeeze into the bottom corner.
0-2 Smeltz (45+1’) – Great awareness from Brandon O’Neill to take a free-kick quickly, releasing Smeltz in behind the defence with the Kiwi striker beating one defender before curling his shot past Izzo into the far corner.
1-2 – O’Donovan (86’) – Josh Rose pounced on a turnover and released Matt Fletcher on the left, with the substitutes cross finding O’Donovan at the far post and he produced a brilliant side-footed finish to beat Vedran Janjetovic.
2-2 Ascroft (90+1’) – Ascroft was giving too much space on the edge of the box, allowed to turn and get a powerful shot in which slipped through the fingers of Janjetovic and into the net.
Early in the second half it appeared like Smeltz would add a third for Sydney when a loose ball in the box fell at his feet with Izzo out of position.
Smeltz’s strike was goal-bound but Ascroft somehow stretched out a leg to clear the ball off the line and save the Mariners from conceding a third.
It proved crucial as the Mariners stayed in the contest and scored twice late to snatch an unlikely point.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
- Sydney FC has now won six straight games against the Mariners, the longest streak of any side in the history of this fixture.
- O’Donovan’s late goal snapped a four-game goalless streak for the Mariners and also means the Sky Blues have now gone 10 games without a clean sheet in the Hyundai A-League.
Blackwood’s opener showed exactly why there is so much hype around the teenage attacker.
His run was full of power and purpose, he had the awareness to cut back into the space on the edge of the box while his finish was superb.
* The defending for Sydney’s goal on the stroke of half-time showed just why the Mariners have failed to keep a clean sheet this season. The back four switched off after conceding a free-kick just inside their own half, allowing the Sky Blues to take it quickly and immediately be through on goal. Smeltz made them pay with a brilliant finish but coach Tony Walmsley would have been furious with the ease of which his side gifted the visitors a goal.
* Sydney had three points in the bag until Janjetovic’s late howler allowed Ascroft’s shot to slip through his hands and roll into the net.
THE FINAL WORD
Central Coast gave their fans something to cheer about with their late fightback, showing they are prepared work until the end of the season, despite their position on the ladder. They head to Adelaide next to play the Reds on Easter Sunday.
The Sky Blues will see this as two points dropped after appearing to be in cruise control for all but five minutes. They have made things even harder for themselves now to make the top six with three tough matches to come, starting with a trip to Brisbane to play Roar next Saturday night.