Besart Berisha has denied Central Coast Mariners an A-League upset for the ages with a stoppage time goal to salvage a 3-3 draw for Melbourne Victory in Geelong.
Victory looked down for the count at halftime, when first-half goals to Harry Ascroft, Josh Bingham and Mitch Austin gave Central Coast a 3-0 lead.
But Victory found a way back, with Berisha scoring either side of a fine team goal from Archie Thompson to salvage a point.
This was an outstanding comeback but how coach Kevin Muscat must have wished his side began at kick-off and not halftime.
Central Coast, playing in a classic counter-attacking style, cut through Victory at ease for a well-deserved lead.
The first goal was a textbook corner.
Austin swung it in to young defender Ascroft, who soared above Rashid Mahazi to head past Victory goalkeeper Danny Vukovic.
On the half-hour the Mariners had their second, Fabio Ferreira slipping in Bingham to slot home at the back post.
Then came a sucker punch, with Dylan Murnane’s foul of Ferreira allowing the Mariners to skip free.
Bingham was involved again, picking up the loose ball and playing in Austin, who raced home to finish his one-on-one chance.
At halftime, Victory went off the pitch to boos, but returned with an intensity that was missing in the first 45.
The pressure told on the hour mark, when Ascroft brought down Kosta Barbarouses, allowing Berisha to covert from the spot.
Muscat threw Leigh Broxham into midfield and replaced Gui Finkler with Thompson as he chased parity.
Thompson pounced within five minutes of arrival, putting the finishing touch on a fantastic goal.
Berisha’s flick left Barbarouses plenty to do but the Kiwi magician juggled the ball through the Mariners defence, volleying onto the bar.
Thompson arrived on the spot to sidefoot home through a packed defence.
It was game on in Geelong, with Victory creating a procession of chances to equalise.
Broxham’s chip was headed over the bar while Berisha, substitute Nick Ansell and Daniel Georgievski all fired wide before the Albanian left his mark.
Mahazi’s diagonal ball was headed on by Barbarouses for Berisha to head on past 18-year-old goalkeeper Tom Hewerd-Belle with just two minutes to play.
The draw ends Central Coast’s six-match losing streak to Victory but keeps the champions in the muck.
Muscat’s side have taken just five points from the last seven games to leave their premiership defence hanging by a thread.