Melbourne City succumbed to a late Central Coast rally to draw 2-2 at home to the Mariners on Sunday, with Phil Moss and his players proving they aren't a spent force in the Hyundai A-League just yet.
John van 't Schip's side, fresh from their drought-breaking 3-1 triumph away to Brisbane Roar last weekend, dominated proceedings at AAMI Park and led through goals from Mate Dugandzic and Erik Paartalu.
Substitute Glen Trifiro got one back for the visitors with 11 minutes to go. It looked like being too little, too late for the away team, but their captain John Hutchinson had other ideas, snatching a point courtesy of a dramatic long-range goal with virtually the last kick of the game.
What They Said
"We showed a lot of character, a lot of will tonight. We're united, we're a changeroom that's united and working very hard to progress up the ladder.
"At training they end up over the grandstand somewhere. It's just close your eyes and hit it and hope for the best. I'm glad it went in."
"It does at the moment (feel like a loss). The boys worked so hard the whole game and just to lose like that in the last seconds of the game is crushing.
"We've been working hard the last five, six weeks so to have the results we've been having, it's hard."
1-0 (Mate Dugandzic 11)
City made most of the early running and were duly rewarded when Iain Ramsay swung an inviting cross from the left into the penalty area. Dugandzic beat Zach Anderson to the ball at the near post, guiding a cushioned header past Liam Reddy and into the far corner of the net.
2-0 (Erik Paartalu 53')
After weathering a lively start from the Mariners in the second half, Paartalu rose highest to head home Damien Duff's corner from the right, deservedly doubling City's advantage.
2-1 (Glen Trifiro, 79')
Having failed to threaten meaningfully or consistently after going two down, Central Coast needed something from nothing to have any chance of getting back in it. That's exactly what they produced with 11 minutes to go, when Trifiro did his best Nebojsa Marinkovic impression by curling a beautiful free-kick beyond Andrew Redmayne and into the top right corner of the keeper's goal.
2-2 (John Hutchinson 94')
With the referee's whistle close to his lips, the Mariners' skipper's long-range effort flew past Redmayne and into the bottom corner, sparking scenes of wild celebration from the Central Coast players and staff.
Substitute Marc Marino, who sealed the win away to the Roar, might have done the same mid-way through the second half, a heavy cross cannoning off his forehead and allowing Reddy to smother an otherwise golden opportunity to put the game to bed. It was a missed chance the hosts would be made to rue.
Opta Data key stats
The ball was shared fairly evenly between the teams, leaving the shot tally to tell the story. City fired in 23 attempts on goal, compared to just nine for the Mariners. That lack of threat in the final third looks like making it a long season for the 2012-13 champions, although they somehow did just not enough to earn a share of the spoils on Sunday.
David Williams had the crowd up and out of their seats 10 minutes before half-time, lashing a vicious long-range strike inches over the bar. A closer inspection with the aid of a replay revealed the vital intervention of Reddy's gloved fingertips had been needed to keep it out.
Back to the drawing board
It's the same old story for City, who once again failed to put a game to bed when leading comfortably. Van 't Schip needs to find a way to turn his players into cold-blooded killers, or plenty more points will slip through their fingers this season.
The Final Word
This fighting draw will give the Mariners a huge lift ahead of a trip to face the desperate and winless Western Sydney in a rescheduled fixture on Wednesday night.
City's fragile confidence meanwhile will have taken a hit ahead of the visit of Sydney FC. They will though be delighted to welcome back Aaron Mooy from international duty next weekend. The midfielder watched the match on Sunday in the company of his Socceroos team-mates in Japan.