SECOND half replacement Troy Hearfield headed home an injury time equaliser as the Central Coast Mariners escaped with a 1-1 draw against Sydney FC in a drama-charged A-League match at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford on Saturday night.
Sydney looked headed for a much-needed victory after Joel Chianese struck home from close range to open the scoring in the 56th minute.
The Mariners bombed several chances in the second half after the goal before Hearfield was left unmarked at the back post to score a crucial goal for the home side in the first minute of second-half injury time.
The Mariners still lead the competition by three points, but will consider themselves lucky to get a point out of the match, while Sydney were devastated with the result after leading so late.
It was a surprisingly lacklustre first half that only came to life after 22 minutes when Nick Carle had a great chance to give the visitors the lead.
After some good lead-up play, Carle struck a powerful shot that was well saved by Mariners goalkeeper Mathew Ryan.
It was then the Mariners turn to pile on the pressure and they had three good chances in as many minutes.
Young midfielder Tomas Rogic had the first effort in the 27th minute when his curling shot was well saved.
From the resulting corner Adam Kwasnik had a close-range header saved before Rogic fired a shot wide after a good run.
The Mariners were having their best period of play in the stanza and had another chance in the 36th minute, but Michael McGlinchey struck his shot over the bar.
One of the highlights of the first half came in the 37th minute when Mariners captain Alex Wilkinson made one of the best defensive plays of the season.
Wilkinson perfectly timed a challenge on Socceroo Brett Emerton after the Mariners lost possession.
Sydney came for the second half in an attacking mood and went agonisingly close to opening the scoring in the 47th minute when Scott Jamieson's curling right-foot strike crashed into the crossbar with Ryan well beaten.
Five minutes later Sydney cut the Mariners to shreds again only for Chianese to shoot straight at Ryan.
The pressure finally told in the 56th minute when Chianese struck home after Ryan denied Carle.
Chianese just managed to stay onside and made no mistake from close range.
After Sydney's goal the Mariners had a wonderful chance to equalise when replacement Bernie Ibini nearly scored with his first touch.
Ibini picked up a long ball, rounded Sydney goalkeeper Ivan Necevski before failing to hit the target when he really should have scored.
Oliver Bozanic also had a golden opportunity to score for the Mariners in the 69th minute.
Ibini sent in a perfect cross only for Bozanic to head over the bar.
In the 78th minute the Mariners were left frustrated once against when John Hutchinson's long-range strike smashed into the crossbar.
It was not until injury time that the Mariners were on level terms with Hearfield the hero for the home side.
Sydney 1 (Chianese 56)
Central Coast 1 (Hearfield 91)