Central Coast Mariners were tonight denied possibly the win of the season by a determined Brisbane Roar outfit. The Roar came up with a goal just over ten minutes from time through first-game player James Meyer to force a 3-3 draw with the Mariners in one of the matches of the season.
Erik Paartalu opened the scoring for the Roar in the 23rd minute with a header before Adam Kwasnik finished neatly 14 minutes later and then Matt Simon made it 2-1 in the 47th minute.
Thomas Broich made it 2-2 for the Roar when he finished with aplomb in the 65th minute prior to Patricio Perez's 74th minute penalty when Milan Susak was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Enter Meyer, who had come on just minutes earlier, and managed to strike superbly from outside the area to tie the scores, which is the way it remained until the final whistle.
The draw allowed the Roar to extend their unbeaten run to 21 games, moving 10 points clear of second-placed Adelaide United, as the Mariners are now just three points behind the Reds in third place with two games in hand.
Venue: Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford Crowd: 7,312 Referee: Peter Green Yellow cards:CCM - Pedj Bojic 58' BR - Erik Paartalu 17', Kosta Barbarouses 44', Milan Susak 46'/73', Michael Theoklitos 74', Mitch Nichols 90' Red card:BR - Milan Susak 73'
Patricio Perez had a good chance to open the scoring as the Mariners began positively inside the first 10 minutes when left-back Josh Rose found him all alone in the area but the Argentine's shot skewed right over the crossbar when he really should have done better.
As always, Brisbane were enjoying plenty more possession than their rivals but they were slightly sloppy with their passes which is unusual. Central Coast looked more dangerous when they went forward but it was the Roar who took the lead inside the first 23 minutes.
GOALThomas Broich's corner held up in the blustery conditions and midfielder Erik Paartalu held his own in the middle of a crowded pack to head home past an advancing Mathew Ryan who got it all wrong with his timing.
Four minutes after the goal, the Roar had a shout for a penalty when Jean Carlos Solorzano was brought down on the edge of the area by Patrick Zwaanswijk but referee Peter Green only awarded a free-kick.
Matt Simon had a good chance for the Mariners in the 34th minute when he got his head to a Rose cross but Roar keeper Michael Theoklitos was on hand to knock it away before the home side grabbed a leveler moments later.
GOAL Oliver Bozanic found Adam Kwasnik in space and the striker managed to knock it past an advancing Theoklitos for his eighth of the season, all of which have come in the last 14 games.
Central Coast had another good chance less than three minutes later when Rose got free in the area and although his shot was parried away, Bozanic had a chance to knock it into an open goal but could only put it over the top as the home side finished the half well on top.
GOAL Two minutes into the second half, the Mariners took a deserved lead when Perez's free-kick from outside the box deflected off the left foot of Matt Simon and in past Theoklitos to make it 2-1. It looked as though the Mariners were well up for being the first team to knock off the league leaders in 20 matches.
The Mariners had a strong chance in the 55th minute when Rose's low cross from the left was directed towards Kwasnik but the Roar defence got there just in time to put the shot under pressure.
Central Coast were pressing and pressing and again came close when Pedj Bojic checked inside to lash with his left foot but it was sent into the crowd who were enjoying the performance of the local side.
GOAL But the Roar got a sniff and that was all they needed to restore parity in the 65th minute when Jean Carlos Solorzano received the ball from a throw-in on the left flank before finding Thomas Broich in space and the German did the rest, firing home past Ryan to make it 2-2.
The Roar had a slight spring in their step after the equaliser but their confidence was again deflated when the Mariners hit the front yet again after Rose was brought down in the area by Milan Susak. It was the defender's second yellow card, reducing his side to ten men, and despite protests from the Roar players referee Peter Green pointed to the spot.
GOAL Perez stepped up to the spot and dispatched it calmly past Theoklitos to make it 3-2 in the 74th minute.
GOAL And in a further twist, the 78th minute saw the Roar hit back in sensational fashion when debutant James Meyer, who came on for Paartalu three minutes earlier, struck a superb leveler from outside the area after being teed up by Kosta Barbarouses.
It set up the match for a cracking final 10 minutes which produced a few half chances until the Mariners sent a header goalward through Zwaanswijk but Roar defender Luke DeVere came up with a diving save on the line in the 91st minute before the Roar had their final chance of the match moments later when Meyer returned the favour to Barbarouses who was free in the six-yard box but his volley missed the target and the match finished in a 3-3 draw.
CCM Mathew Ryan (gk), Josh Rose, Pedj Bojic, Patrick Zwaanswijk, Rostyn Griffiths, Patricio Perez (Amini 83'), Oliver Bozanic, Michael McGlinchey, Alex Wilkinson, Matt Simon, Adam Kwasnik (McBreen 84')
Subs - Paul Henderson (gk), Mustafa Amini (83'), Daniel McBreen (84'), John Hutchinson
BR Michael Theoklitos (gk), Matt Smith, Luke DeVere, Shane Stefanutto, Erik Paartalu (Meyer 75'), Kosta Barbarouses, Massimo Murdocca (Brattan 74'), Jean Carlos Solorzano (Mundy 80'), Mitch Nichols, Thomas Broich, Milan Susak
Subs - Andrew Redmayne (gk), Luke Brattan (74'), James Meyer (75'), Matt Mundy (80')