Melbourne Heart's chances of making the finals in their debut season is now purely mathematical after they were held to a 1-1 draw tonight. In a match put back an hour-and-a-quarter due to heavy rain, the Heart took the lead in the 49th minute through a speculative long range free-kick from Matt Thompson which somehow evaded Central Coast Mariners keeper Mathew Ryan before the visiting side instantly hit back through Daniel McBreen.
The draw, Melbourne's fifth match without a win, badly dented their pursuit of the top six as they are now one point behind sixth-placed Wellington Phoenix who have two games in hand.
For the Mariners, it notched up seven matches undefeated and put them four points clear in second as a double chance beckons but it was dampened by the loss of striker Matt Simon to a knee injury. It also ended their chance of taking the Premier's Plate which has now been sewn up by the Brisbane Roar.
The result was a disaster for the Heart in more ways than one as they were tracking for a crowd of more than 10,000 with ticket sales moving along well but the weather turned plenty away and just over 3,500 were there to see a fascinating contest.
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne Crowd: 3,667 Referee: Strebre Delovski Yellow cards:MH - nil CCM - Oliver Bozanic 55'
The match was scheduled for an 8:00pm start but torrential rain and flash flooding in Melbourne forced it back by more than an hour with most of the Heart fans, and a few from the Central Coast, sticking around for the revised 9:15pm start. Many thanks much go to the AAMI Park pitch which did a stellar job in draining itself to get this vital fixture underway.
It was a stop-start beginning before things opened up with Heart midfielder Wayne Srhoj blazing over the crossbar early before Central Coast's Michael McGlinchey let rip in the 6th minute, his left-footed shot slipping through the hands of Heart goalkeeper Clint Bolton, who scrambled to somehow pull it back before it went over the line with a stroke of luck. It appeared that it may have dribbled in although the replay was inconclusive.
Mariners forward Daniel McBreen's 11th minute header from a Pedj Bojic cross from the right flank slipped slightly wide of the mark. Just under six minutes later, Heart skipper Simon Colosimo made an absolutely brilliant saving tackle after Matt Simon was played in by Rostyn Griffiths and with the Mariners man bearing down on goal, Colosimo timed his slide challenge perfectly.
Mariners gloveman Mathew Ryan was forced into action in the 19th minute when Gerald Sibon's free-kick was heading towards the top corner and five minutes later the home side pushed forward again when Sibon flicked it forward for Alex Terra with the Brazilian trying his luck with a half-volley from inside the area.
It was a tough night for goalkeepers with Ryan almost fumbling a John Aloisi header from the top of the six-yard box prior to the half-hour mark and then Central Coast captain Alex Wilkinson made a crucial challenge when Rutger Worm played in Aloisi.
The quality of play was much better than it should have been considering the conditions, highlighted by Aziz Behich's dazzling run down the left before supplying a handy cross but Aloisi could not get enough on the slippery ball to turn it in.
Bolton came up with a handy save down the other end in the 39th minute from Patricio Perez's free-kick which was the last play of any note in the opening 45 minutes as both sides retreated to the dressing rooms to get dry.
GOAL Less than four minutes into the second half, Heart's Matt Thompson scored with a very fortuitous but smart goal from behind the halfway mark. Thompson quickly took a free-kick, sending a long ball goalward which bounced straight over the head of Ryan, who turned in an attempt to rescue his error, but could only carry it over the line right next to the post in what can only be called a fundamental goalkeeping mistake.
GOAL And almost instantly, the Mariners hit the home side with a sucker punch when Josh Rose got a cross in from the left which was met by substitute Daniel McBreen with a first-time shot which hit Bolton. The ball bobbled up before the Mariners striker tucked home the deflection from close range for his fifth of the season and the equaliser as the match sprung to life.
Sibon's sliding left-footed shot from Terra's cross was agonisingly close in the 52nd minute before a slight lull in play occurred as both sides took a breather.
The Mariners were close to hitting the front around the 70th minute when a corner fell for centre-half Patrick Zwaanswijk but Behich was standing on the post to knock it clear before Sibon received it down the other end and looped his shot from outside the area just over the bar as the match came back to life.
Ryan came up with a superb save in the 80th minute when Srhoj played a one-two with Aloisi but his well-struck shot was knocked clear by the Mariners keeper who was able to make amends for his earlier error.
The Heart kept coming, mainly through Behich down the left, but the visitors were also in the mood for a winner with a late barrage of attack, however, neither side could find a goal and the match finished 1-1.
MH Clint Bolton (gk), Michael Marrone, Simon Colosimo, Matt Thompson, Aziz Behich, Josip Skoko (Hamill 46'), Gerald Sibon, Wayne Srhoj (Kalmar 87'), Rutger Worm (Ibrahim 63'), Alex Terra, John Aloisi
Subs - Peter Zois (gk), Brendan Hamill (46'), Kamal Ibrahim (63'), Nick Kalmar (87')
CCM Matthew Ryan (gk), Pedj Bojic, Patrick Zwaanswijk, Alex Wilkinson, Josh Rose, Michael McGlinchey (Amini 90+2'), Rostyn Griffiths, Patricio Perez (Hutchinson 79'), Oliver Bozanic, Daniel McBreen, Matt Simon (Kwasnik 35')