Melbourne Victory fought back from two goals down to claim a last-gasp 3-2 victory over a heartbroken Central Coast side in Gosford.
The Mariners looked set to cause the upset of the A-League season on Saturday when Andrew Hoole nailed two sublime free kicks in the first half. However, the defending champions flicked the switch after the break and levelled through James Troisi and an unfortunate own goal by Mariners' goalkeeper Ben Kennedy. Kosta Barbarouses then sealed the comeback in front of a modest crowd of 5,223 when he took advantage of a tiring Mariners defence to finish on the counter.
The win ensures the second-placed Victory remain four points clear of Sydney FC, who host Melbourne City on Sunday.
It was a cruel finish for the Mariners, who looked set to end a 16-game winless run against the Victory when Hoole curled in his first shot home in the 18th minute. The chances flowed thereafter, with Matt Millar's speculator finding woodwork and then Jacob Melling's audacious effort from long range denied by keeper Lawrence Thomas.
A rattled Victory defence were pressured into giving away another set piece on the edge of the box just before half-time. And Hoole delivered yet another pearler, beating the outstretched gloves of Thomas to take a stunning two-goal lead at the break.
With the Victory in search of some spark, Elvis Kamsoba entered the building and made an immediate impact by teeing up their first goal for Troisi. The speedy winger caused plenty of havoc down the left edge, and cut back for Troisi to deliver in the 50th minute.
The visitors then squared the contest in bizarre fashion when Kennedy failed to deal with an awkward Raul Baena ball into the box, which he palmed into the net in the 68th minute.
Victory's relief may yet be tempered by an injury to skipper Carl Valeri, who limped off with a leg injury in the first half.
Forced to rely on the depth of his squad following injuries to Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen, Victory coach Kevin Muscat singled out Kamsoba's contribution.
"He was outstanding from the moment he stepped on, right to the death there," Muscat said. "It's just a real big contribution. He seemed to lift the players around him."
Mariners coach Mike Mulvey also conceded his players were rattled by Kamsoba's speed.
"We were spooked in the second half because they put the young lad wide left and he changed their shape," he said. "I wouldn't say we didn't cope with it, it's that we acted surprised by it and it brought a bit of uncertainty."