A 73rd-minute penalty from Angel Torres has ensured the spoils would be shared between Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory in a highly entertaining 2-2 draw at Industree Group Stadium.
Alou Kuol opened the scoring for the Mariners after 16 minutes, but Victory roared back into the contest through a stunning strike from Bruno Fornaroli on the brink of half-time, before Nishan Velupillay fired Tony Popovic’s side ahead after the break.
Victory looked on track to withstand a late barrage and come away with the win, before Torres fired home a penalty to tie the scores with 17 minutes remaining on Sunday.
However, had it not been for some crucial saves from Paul Izzo in the dying moments, Central Coast could have easily come away with all three points in Gosford.
The Mariners are now unbeaten in two straight games, as they look to turn the corner following a four-game losing streak to start their Championship defence, but remain five points behind sixth-placed Macarthur FC who are in action tomorrow night against Adelaide United.
Meanwhile, Victory are still unbeaten to start the new season, but have drawn their last four matches, continuing a frustrating spell for Tony Popovic’s charges.
Victory came into the contest with three first-choice defenders missing, with Adama Traore suspended and Damien Da Silva and Jason Geria absent, opening the door for Franco Lino to make his first A-Leagues start.
The Mariners started brightly and they probably should have taken the lead inside the opening five minutes. Former Victory player Will Wilson teed up Kuol brilliantly inside the area, but the Mariners striker completely mis-timed the ball and didn’t make any contact with the well-weighted cross.
Kuol, however, would have his moment just over 10 minutes later. After receiving a back pass from Lino, Roderick Miranda was dispossessed on the edge of his area by Kuol, who rounded Izzo and buried the opener.
Despite protests from the Victory captain for a potential foul in the build-up, the goal stood.
Victory began to build into the contest as the first-half wore on, with Velupillay putting in a delightful cross to Fornaroli, who was unable to contort his body enough to head the ball on target.
But Bruno wouldn’t be denied again.
On the brink of half-time, Fornaroli received the ball on the left flank with Brian Kaltak right behind him. The 36-year-old did well to hold Kaltak off, before nutmegging Storm Roux and driving centrally towards the top of the box where he took a touch away from goal and fired into the top corner with inch-perfect precision.
Victory carried the momentum of Fornaroli’s goal into the second-half and took the lead shortly after the restart through Velupillay.
The Victory young gun received the ball on the edge of the box, before duking his way past Torres and curling it past Vukovic to give the visitors the lead.
Jackson’s side, however, wouldn’t go down without a fight, as the introductions of Jing Reec and Christian Theoharous helped swing the pendulum back in the home side’s favour.
Reec and Marco Tulio had a number of chances to bring the scores level, but finally their attacking forays would be rewarded with a goal after Fabian Monge was penalised for a handball inside the penalty area.
Torres stepped up and redeemed himself for losing his balance in the lead-up to Velupillay’s go-ahead goal, by coolly placing the ball into the back of the net and bringing the scores level.
Central Coast then went in search of a winner and had it not been for a a crucial Izzo intervention, Reec may have tapped home the winner with only minutes remaining.
Izzo again came to the rescue in second-half stoppage time, clawing out Jacob Farrell’s mishit long-range pass which looked to be goal-bound.
THE TALKING POINT
It’s a goal that will certainly feature on highlight reels for years to come.
Bruno Fornaroli’s strike on the brink of half-time was something straight out of the top draw, bringing the scores level with a stunning long range goal.
His 96th A-Leagues goal takes his season tally to seven for the season, sitting head on the shoulders above the rest of the competition in the early stages of the race to the Isuzu UTE A-League Golden Boot.
At 36 years of age, the Uruguayan-born Socceroo is having a career renaissance, hitting his straps at the perfect time with the AFC Asian Cup only a little over a month away.
“Arnie, here I am,” Network 10 commentator Robbie Thomson exclaimed after the goal.
Fornaroli received his first two caps for the national team in March last year, during Australia’s do-or-die World Cup qualifiers against Japan and Saudi Arabia, but has since been on the outside looking in.
His performances so far this season have shot himself back into contention for the upcoming tournament, especially with Western Sydney Wanderers attacker Brandon Borrello sidelined through injury.
Fornaroli was asked post-game if the Asian Cup was in his sights on Network 10, responding: “Oh look, I work hard, I don’t close the door.
“I’m happy, if it comes, of course. I was happy to represent before in two big games for Australia. It wasn’t easy that time. But why not?
“If the phone rings, I will be happy to come back to the Socceroos.”
Seven goals this season is among the most of all active Australian strikers, and given the Socceroos’ lack of out-and-out No.9s, Fornaroli’s early season form does have to come into consideration when Graham Arnold selects his 23 players to travel to Qatar.
Mitchell Duke is seemingly a lock after one of his best seasons to date, as is Melbourne City’s Jamie Maclaren – after a hat-trick against Bangladesh in their last World Cup qualifier and eight goals at club level.
This leaves Fornaroli to battle it out with Portsmouth’s Kusini Yengi, Viking’s Nick D’Agostino, Paris FC’s Mohamed Toure and Mohun Bagan’s Jason Cummings for the final out and out No.9 spot in the squad, should Arnold stick to form and take three strikers to Qatar.
Crucially for Fornaroli, he has scored more goals than most of those options this season, other than Cummings, who has eight goals in 15 club appearances in India.
However, El Tuna’s goal to game ratio far exceeds the former Mariner (Fornaroli sits at 1.16 goals per game, while Cummings averages 0.53 goals per game).
The next few weeks will be crucial, but another couple star showings and Fornaroli’s case will be even harder for the Socceroos coaching staff to ignore.
Nishan Velupillay’s breakout season continued on Sunday afternoon.
The Victory attacker was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench against Macarthur FC last weekend – due to only just arriving back in the country from Olyroos duty – and he made his presence known in Gosford.
Popovic made the call to drop Daniel Arzani to the bench, in order to bring Velupillay back into the side, with Chris Ikonomidis retaining his spot on the opposite flank, and the 22-year-old rewarded his coach’s faith.
Velupillay was everywhere for Victory, providing an outlet on the flanks and even at times through the middle, capping it off with a stunning goal to give Popovic’s side the lead after half-time.
WHAT THEY SAID
Hear what Central Coast Mariners Football Manager Mark Jackson and Melbourne Victory boss Tony Popovic said in their post game press conferences.
WHAT THIS MEANS
It’s been a better run for Central Coast since the international break.
Mark Jackson’s side are starting to finally get results on the board, importantly getting off the foot of the table over the last week with a win over Newcastle Jets and draw against Victory.
Their hectic schedule – which saw them play three games in eight days – doesn’t slow down, as they now have to gear up for another game in five days time against bottom of the table Western United, before travelling to the Philippines to face Stallion Laguna in a must-win AFC Cup clash the following week.
But considering the Mariners are playing catch-up following their poor start, points are a must if they are to close the gap on the top six and keep their hopes of a finals push alive.
Meanwhile, Victory have drawn their last four games, remaining nestled inside the top six on 10 points to start the new season.
Their performances have been solid, but they would be kicking themselves that they haven’t been able to get more reward for their efforts over the last month.
Victory’s road trip continues next Sunday when they return to New South Wales for a blockbuster clash against Western Sydney Wanderers at CommBank Stadium.