A late Marcin Budzinski rocket and Ross McCormack’s record-breaking exploits have secured Melbourne City FC a point in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Central Coast Mariners on Sunday.
City, which had lost Harrison Delbridge to a 27th-minute red card, looked all but certain to fall to a 2-1 defeat in an extraordinarily windy Gosford, with Ross McCormack’s first half strike coming either side of goals to Alan Baro and Jake McGing.
But a stunning strike from second-half substitute Budzinski earned City an important point, securing a seventh point from three matches and over 8,000 kilometres of travel.
McCormack became the fastest Hyundai A-League player in their inaugural season to reach 13 goals, doing so in just 15 appearances, as the in-form striker played an important role in the visitor's result.
City came into the match with an unchanged line-up from the team’s 2-0 win over Perth Glory in the West on Tuesday.
Head Coach Warren Joyce’s only change to the match day squad was the introduction of young Scholarship Player and midfielder Connor Metcalfe, who came onto the bench for the outgoing Marcelo Carrusca - released during the week as he joined the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Both Daniel Arzani and Harrison Delbridge retained their positions in the starting XI following their starting debuts against Perth, while City’s Australian U23s trio of Bruce Kamau, Stefan Mauk and Ruon Tongyik remain on international duty.
With wind sweeping Central Coast Stadium, both teams struggled to control the match – and the flight of the ball – during the early exchanges. However, the match sprung to life shortly after the clock ticked over the 10-minute mark.
The Mariners first combined well to penetrate City’s box with Asdrubal breaking the lines before forcing a crucial interception from Bart Schekenveld in the six-yard box from a back-heel. If the Spaniard had opted to shoot, City may well have had a more difficult proposition on its hands, given the position the striker had taken up in front of goal.
It was City’s turn to break forward, with livewire Daniel Arzani finding space to cross down the right, as the youngster cleverly used the wind to curl a perfect cross to Ross McCormack at the back post. With the ball swerving in the wind, the Scotsman misread its flight but managed to get his thigh to deflect the ball goal-ward, forcing a fine reflex stop from Mariners ‘keeper Ben Kennedy.
The danger didn’t disappear for the Mariners as the ball deflected to Dario Vidosic at the back post, but the City man couldn’t turn it into the net.
Seconds later, Mariners won a free kick on the edge of the area, which resulted in the game’s opening goal in the 13th monute. Lachlan Wales curled in the free kick, and Delbridge could only header onto the woodwork, before the rebound was nodded past Dean Bouzanis by the home side’s captain Alan Baro.
Mariners then looked to use the advantage of the wind as former City man Jacob Melling broke into space in the midfield before launching a speculative effort over the bar in the 17th minute.
The complexion of the match changed drastically in the 27th minute as Delbridge broke down the right and cut inside, only to lose possession with a heavy first touch. In an attempt to quickly regain the ball, Delbridge dived in on Blake Powell and caught the Mariners forward high around the ankle, missing the ball completely. With referee Adam Kersey forced to send the former FC Cincinnati defender off for an early shower.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, City looked to create further opportunities as Nathaniel Atkinson swept a corner over the bar, before McCormack swivelled in the box and fired in a strong waist-high effort, forcing Kennedy to parry clear.
However, despite City’s attempts to go forward, Mariners continued to pose a danger on the break, with Tom Hiariej’s warning shot from distance a sign of how quickly the Mariners found space to exploit with a man advantage. Kennedy’s save sprung the Mariners into a counter attack and Hiariej’s effort sailed whiskers over Bouzanis’ crossbar.
But City continued to fashion chances and a neat move instigated by a clever aerial ball from Osama Malik gave City the equaliser.
Malik chipped the ball left to Jamieson, whose positive first touch took him past Storm Roux, before playing McCormack in the 18-yard box. The Scotsman, with his back to goal, did well to swivel into space, and then passed the ball into the net through Golec’s legs and into the bottom corner.
The timing was perfect for City close to the half-time break and looked the better team in the four minutes into the break, but less so when the teams resumed in the second stanza, as Mariners again went ahead five minutes after the restart.
City were again exposed at a set piece, as Powell directed Wales’ corner onto the crossbar and McGing looped in a header over Bouzanis to give the hosts a 2-1 advantage.
McCormack had an attempt via a free kick from distance, but the wind took it up and over Kennedy’s cross bar.
City were forced to sit back and look for opportunities on the break, but Mariners nearly secured all three points as Asdruval beared down on goal, only for a superb interception from captain Michael Jakobsen prevented an almost certain goal.
Fitzgerald came in for Arzani to look to create problems down the right and he had City’s best chance of the half as he beat Roux and then flashed a low effort inches wide of the post.
With Budzinski brought on after 72 minutes for Dario Vidosic, the Pole took 12 minutes to stamp his mark on the match, finding the equaliser in the final ten minutes.
A short clearance from the hosts saw the midfielder latch onto a strike that fizzed its way through the sea of bodies in front of Ben Kennedy, picking up his first goal since the Round 2 Melbourne Derby.
Despite a late call of offside from the linesman, VAR had confirmed the deserved equaliser for City, ensuring the visitors would leave the Central Coast with a hard fought point.
City return to Melbourne on Sunday evening ahead of back-to-back home matches at AAMI Park, first tackling Adelaide United next Sunday, 21 January, before a Australia Day eve encounter against Newcastle Jets on Thursday 25 January. Click here to get your tickets for the match.