CENTRAL Coast Mariners set a new club record of 15 matches unbeaten and took a big step towards sealing the Premier Plate with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Adelaide United at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Mariners sent the 7,478 fans home delighted but not before being pushed to their limit by an opponent out to continue its own hot streak since John Kosmina took the coaching reins.
Adelaide led the match for its majority after responding to an early Mariners goal with a rapid double salvo, and they had clear chances to grab a third among Central Coast's two late strikes.
The Mariners have dropped below their best in recent weeks but normal service looked to have resumed for the A-League front-runners when after 15 minutes striker Daniel McBreen put his side ahead.
Strike partner Bernie Ibini's persistence won a free kick on the left and though Michael McGlinchey's effort was partly cleared, Pedj Bojic sped down the outside of Osama Malik on the right and McBreen headed his neat cross home at the near post.
But Adelaide made the most of a rare lapse in concentration by the league leaders, with their normally dominant central defensive partnership losing two costly one-on-one duels in three minutes.
First Adelaide's in-form target man Sergio van Dijk dropped off the back of Patrick Zwaanswijk to profit from a precise lofted pass from Fabian Barbiero, the Dutchman having time to take three touches in the six yard before slotting home.
Then it was Bruce Djite's turn as he outmuscled Alex Wilkinson to get on the end of Cameron Watson's long throw and score the simplest of goals.
The hosts looked shellshocked at the back and Djite could have had another couple as quick-fire chances passed him by, and despite John Hutchinson's shot over from range reflecting a more settled period for the Mariners it was Dario Vidosic who had the best chance of the remainder of the first half, his header flying straight into Mat Ryan's gloves.
Central Coast perhaps gave a sign of things to come in the minutes before half time as Bojic curled a crafty effort just wide and Ibini tested Eugene Galekovic low after making space cutting in on the left in now trademark fashion.
The chances were fewer but the passing was better after Graham Arnold's half-time words of wisdom, but it took a string of substitutions from both sides to spark the match into life with a quarter of an hour to play.
Arnold injected Adam Kwasnik, Ollie Bozanic and Troy Hearfield and went to a shape similar to the 4-2-4 that had dragged a goal back against Newcastle in the derby here last week.
Bozanic then picked out Kwasnik with a similar reverse chipped as Barbiero's first half assist, and though Kwasnik had work to do to tame it at the back post he did so with a sensual first touch before smashing his equaliser across Galekovic with the left foot that stole the points at Melbourne Heart on Wednesday.
Adelaide so nearly responded in an identical fashion to their first concession as substitute Iain Ramsay swung in a ball across the face of goal, but Ryan produced an incredible moment as he parried Van Dijk's attempted finish onto the opposite post.
The ball travelled the length of the goalline a second time on its way back into Ryan's relieved grasp, it would prove to be a fateful turn of events as the Mariners then went up the other end to push for a third of their own.
Hearfield got in behind his man down the right and his drilled cross was met by McBreen, but though Galekovic did brilliantly to parry his close shot, the onrushing Josh Rose was first on the scene to lash the winner home.
Former Mariner Nigel Boogaard had a late chance to spoil the party but Ryan again backed up his match-winning performance from midweek, diving acrobatically to his right to push it away and seal the points.