Wanderers comeback thwarted by late Mariners penalty in gripping 2-2 draw

Central Coast Mariners rallied late to rescue a point against Western Sydney Wanderers, who came from behind to lead in the second half before being forced to settle for a 2-2 draw in a matchup of unrelenting entertainment at Bankwest Stadium.

Matt Simon put the visitors ahead in the first half, and with a quarter of an hour to play it seemed one goal may have been enough for the Mariners to see off the Wanderers and extend their gap at the top of the table to five points.

That was until Western Sydney substitute Bruce Kamau entered the fray. The lively attacker fired home two goals in a four-minute spell to get the home side ahead with little more than ten minutes to play. 

But drama ensued in the final knockings of the contest as Mariners young gun Alou Kuol won his side a penalty after beating Keanu Baccus to a high ball dropping down into his attacking penalty box, going down under contact from Baccus. Referee Chris Beath gave the penalty after a VAR check and Oliver Bozanic converted, withstanding the pressure from the spot to draw his side level.

Kuol threatened to snatch all three points for the Mariners down one end before Thomas Aquilina headed off the crossbar deep into stoppage time, but neither side could make the most of their final opportunities, and the game finished with scores locked at 2-2.

The Mariners now sit three points ahead of Melbourne City, having played two games more than Patrick Kisnorbo's side.

Key Moments

The Wanderers struggled to find their feet on a damp Bankwest Stadium surface, playing a string of wayward passes throughout the opening 10 minutes of play.

Nicolai Müller got busy for the hosts after their shaky start, firing two attempts on goal which were respectively blocked by Mariners defender Ruon Tongyik and gathered by Mark Birighitti with a low, diving save. 

In between Müller's two first-half chances, the German played a corner to the near post for Ziggy Gordon to attack, which the former Mariners man headed narrowly over the crossbar. 

It was then the Mariners' turn to attack, and they did so with vigour to create a number of chances and score the opening goal.

Simon got the visitors on the board with a delightful dink off Marco Ureña's through ball, lofting his shot over the out-rushing Daniel Margush to find the back of the net.

Ureña's pass came off an invasive run through midfield. The Costa Rican drove from right to left across goal, then slid his pass to Simon on the angle back toward the right side of the penalty box, where the Mariners talisman finished with conviction.

The Mariners pressed on for a second soon after going ahead, and bodies flooded the Wanderers' defensive box after Simon dribbled through a pair of defenders to play Ureña the ball in on goal. The initial strike was blocked by Mark Natta, but Stefan Nigro had ventured forward from defence to win the ball back for Central Coast and tee up Daniel Bouman to shoot.

Bouman had a yard of space with the goal at his mercy but Margush got down well to save, preventing a second goal from piercing his guard.

James Troisi tried his luck on three occasions late in the half, with two strikes from long range failing to find the back of the net before the Wanderers midfielder dinked a late attempt on goal from Birighitti's punch to the edge of the box which the Mariners 'keeper quickly got back to collect, sending his side into the break with a 1-0 lead.

Gianni Stensness proved his worth as a defensive midfielder with a last-ditch sliding block on Mitch Duke's attempt on goal early in the second half.

The Mariners player lost the ball in attack before Western Sydney got forward themselves, with Bernie Ibini cutting a cross back off the right flank to find Duke for the first-time shot. But Stensness was there to protect his defence, getting ahead of the Red and Black marksman to contain the shot on goal.

Duke was contained with ease by Tongyik and Kye Rowles in the first half but popped up once more just before the hour mark to signal a threat to the Mariners of his constant attacking threat. Wilmering created the chance by playing a low cross to Ibini in the box, who flicked the ball on to Duke waiting by the penalty spot. 

His shot was on target, but Birighitti was at the ready to dive low to his left and make a composed save.

Alou Kuol emerged from the bench to send Clisby in for a chance on goal, created after both Dylan McGowan and Natta failed in challenges to win the ball off the feet of the full-back. 

Clisby's initial shot got past Margush, but not past Aquilina defending on the goal line. The rebound fell back to Clisby who struck on goal again, but Aquilina wasn't to be beaten - the young defender quelled Clisby for a second time in quick succession to spare his side's blushes.

After preventing a goal down one end, Aquilina got down the other to help his side draw level, with the assist to Bruce Kamau's tidy finish.

Simon Cox joined Kamau in entering the contest from the bench, and the pair were instrumental in the goalscoring move. Cox linked up well with Duke outside the box, and the latter's pass out wide found Aquilina streaming down the right flank. The full-back crossed along the ground to Kamau who was waiting to finish easily with a shot angled through Birighitti's legs. 

On 78 minutes, the contest swung on a pair of massive moments. Stensness failed to head home from a corner situation, losing his marker in the box and sending his effort wide. 

The Wanderers quickly got down the other end, and Troisi sent Kamau driving through the middle of the park. Kamau dribbled away from Stensness, cut past Tongyik and fired a shot on goal, which deflected off a Central Coast body on its way past Birighitti to put the hosts 2-1 ahead.

But the drama hadn't yet completely unfolded at Bankwest Stadium. Kamau thought he was the hero for the Wanderers on the night, before a fellow substitute made an impact of his own - this time for the Mariners. 

Kuol got ahead of Baccus as a high ball dropped in the box, getting a boot to the loose ball first and going down under the contact from the Wanderers man. Central Coast called for a penalty which wasn't given, until a VAR check required referee Beath to take another look. 

The referee pointed to the spot after checking the incident to award the visitors a spot kick that Bozanic stepped up to strike, sending Margush diving right and burying the ball to his left to restore parity in an entertaining clash.