A late equaliser from Marcin Budzinski earned Melbourne City a point in front of 6,263 at Central Coast Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Mariners opened their account early through Alan Baro, with the Spanish defender heading in his first A-League goal after Lachie Wales’ sublime set piece was deflected back into play off the crossbar by Harrison Delbridge.
It would be the City centre-half’s last meaningful involvement in the match though, sent off after 28 minutes for a tackle on Blake Powell described as “criminal” by an irate Paul Okon.
Despite their numerical disadvantage City would have the better of play going into the break, culminating in an equaliser from a turning Ross McCormack after Scott Jamieson trapped Osama Malik’s diagonal ball and cut in on the left.
Moments into the second half the Mariners would regain their lead, with Lachie Wales’ corner knocked into the bar by Luke Brattan and headed in by Jake McGing.
The hosts held on until the final moments when barely-sighted City marquee Budzinski came off the bench to equalise with a howitzer, awarded after a review found a handful of offside players had not interfered.
Another young star seizes his chance
After impressing off the bench against Melbourne Victory and Newcastle, Wales was handed his first A-League start with a hamstring injury ruling out Connor Pain.
On set piece duties with Andrew Hoole missing, Wales’ first effort dipped over the wall and was eventually turned in by Baro after some interference, and the trajectory of his crosses saw the Mariners consistently threaten to score from corners.
Width and set pieces have been issues for Okon all season, and the presence of Wales goes some way to addressing both while adding an exciting dimension to a struggling attacking line.
City developing a reliance on wingers
Despite the Mariners going into the game with a league-worst scoring record of just 14 goals in 15 matches, Warren Joyce opted – perhaps unsurprisingly – for three central-defenders behind two screening midfielders, with Jamieson and Nathaniel Atkinson as wing-backs.
While the duo performed well in their respective roles, it is a concern that so much of City’s positive play was funneled into wide areas while the holding-midfielders in Brattan and Malik offered little in the way of offensive output or defensive structure.
Daniel Arzani has a staggering effect on the temperament of the side, but even his coverage and touch cannot always paper over the lack of connection through the middle of the park.
Better communication needed for VAR to succeed
While the right decision was eventually reached for Budzinski’s equaliser, the lack of communication with spectators at the ground is cause for frustration.
Replays are shown sporadically, updates are not provided through a process that interrupts play for what can seem like an eternity, and no explanations are made for the eventual decision.
If the review process is to remain beyond the 2017-18 campaign, fans at the ground must be kept in the loop.