Sydney FC scored an injury-time goal to force a 1-1 draw with arch rivals Melbourne Victory tonight but their finals hopes look to be dashed. The Sky Blues dominated large patches of the contest, with Nick Carle the architect, but could not beat Michael Petkovic and the Victory defence until the 91st minute of proceedings.
Finnish import Juho Makela grabbed his second goal in two matches when he knocked home a Carle attempt after Danny Allsopp put the Victory ahead against the run of play in the 52nd minute.
The draw put the reigning champions within six points of the finals race with only five regular season games remaining whilst an undermanned Victory would be happy to record a point to move two clear of sixth-placed Newcastle Jets.
In a scrappy opening, both sides were finding it hard to produce out-and-out goalscoring chances although Sydney were pressing forward with increasing regularity and held a clear advantage in terms of possession and shots on goal in the first 20 minutes.
The Victory had a solid chance in about the 22nd minute when the ball was played in from the right to an unsuspecting Danny Allsopp but the presence of Sky Blues defender Stephan Keller did enough to put off his opportunity from close range.
Sung-Hwan Byun forced a top save out of Michael Petkovic in the 28th minute with a left-footed lash from way out moments before the Victory gloveman used his legs to block a Bruno Cazarine header to keep the visitors in the contest when they really should have been behind.
It seemed as though an opening goal was just a matter of time for the home side and it almost came in the 39th minute when Hiro Moriyasu's drive from the top of the box cannoned into the upright, beating Petkovic, but not getting past the woodwork.
Melbourne fought back late in the first half, looking far more dangerous but they would have been happy to go into the break not conceding in the first 45.
Victory coach Ernie Merrick made his intentions clear by making two changes at the break, bringing on Matthew Foschini and Mate Dugandzic for Leigh Broxham and Ricardinho and the change-up paid immediate dividends when his side took the lead.
GOAL The Victory broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute when Carlos Hernandez played an inch-perfect ball from midfield for Danny Allsopp who took a touch before knocking it past Liam Reddy with help from Sydney defenders for his first since returning to the club from his stint in Qatar and the USA.
Sydney's season was now on the line as they required no less than a win to keep their finals hopes alive but just prior to the hour-mark, Victory's Marvin Angulo almost made it 2-0 with a swerving shot from way out which forced Sydney keeper Liam Reddy to cover his area.
The Sky Blues made a few changes, bringing on Juho Makela and Shannon Cole and it was the latter who produced the best chance when his left-footed shot from an angle in the 70th minute flew over the crossbar after he dazzled Angulo with some fancy footwork.
The sting went out of the match after the 70-minute mark as Melbourne sat back and soaked up the pressure but it almost brought about their demise when Sydney went forward through Nick Carle. The former Crystal Palace man made a superb run before playing in Dimitri Petratos but the youngster fluffed his open chance, completely missing the ball, when any contact could have seen it past Petkovic for an equaliser.
Petkovic made a vital save in the 85th minute when Carle nodded towards goal but his efforts were unrewarded when the home side netted a leveler in injury time. GOAL Carle took the responsibility on himself to shoot from long range but his mishit attempt fortuitously found substitute Makela all by himself in the area and he needed no second call to slot it past Petkovic to make it 1-1.
SYD Liam Reddy (gk), Stephan Keller, Hiro Moriyasu (Makela 55'), Stuart Musialik, Bruno Cazarine, Nick Carle, Terry McFlynn (Ryall 85'), Matthew Jurman, Scott Jamieson, Sung-Hwan Byun (Cole 68'), Dimitri Petratos
Subs - Ivan Necevski (gk), Juho Makela (55'), Shannon Cole (68'), Seb Ryall (85')
MV Michael Petkovic (gk), Petar Franjic, Leigh Broxham (Foschini 46'), Grant Brebner, Ricardinho (Dugandzic 46'), Marvin Angulo, Roddy Vargas, Diogo Ferreira, Billy Celeski, Carlos Hernandez (Pondeljak 83'), Danny Allsopp
Subs - Sebastian Mattei (gk), Matthew Foschini (46'), Mate Dugandzic (46'), Tom Pondeljak (83')