The Central Coast Mariners have held off a fast-finishing Sydney FC to record a thrilling 3-2 victory in a pulsating A-League encounter at the SFS on Saturday night.

Goals to star import Patrick Zwaanswijk and Michael McGlinchey either side of half-time gave the Mariners a commanding 2-0 lead midway through the second half but the Sky Blues refused to surrender without a fight.

An opportunistic header from Nicky Carle gave the parochial 13,947 crowd some hope in the 77th minute before Troy Hearfield restored the visitors' two-goal advantage five minutes later.

The drama continued when marquee man Brett Emerton dragged the hosts back into the contest with a brilliant free-kick on 88 minutes, but the Mariners survived a frenetic finish to post a well-deserved victory.

The Mariners had the better of the early exchanges but the Sky Blues should have hit the front in the eighth minute when Mark Bridge missed a gilt-edged chance in front of goal.

Scott Jamieson sent a clever ball into the penalty box for Bridge who produced a classy first touch but sent his shot well over the woodwork to let the visitors off the hook.

The Mariners' first genuine chance arrived in the 35th minute when Michael Beauchamp failed to clear a dangerous through-ball.

Berni Ibini swooped and sped towards goal only to be denied by Liam Reddy who showed no regard for his own safety to save the day for the hosts.

But he was powerless to stop Zwaanswijk six minutes later after Terry Antonis conceded a free-kick on the edge of the penalty box for a clumsy challenge on Daniel McBreen.

A set move saw Hutchinson deflect the ball for Zwaanswijk who unleashed a furious left-foot strike that blasted into the top-right corner to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage at the break.

There was more bad news for the Sky Blues at the interval after McFlynn succumbed to a leg injury suffered in a collision early in the second half, with Bruno Cazarine the replacement player.

The hosts looked to push the pace at the resumption but soon found themselves in an even deeper hole when the Mariners doubled their advantage in the 66th minute.

Mustafa Amini pushed the ball wide for Pedj Bojic who found McGlinchey all alone in the penalty box.

The New Zealand international produced a clinical finish to silence the home crowd and leave the visitors in the box seat.

Carle opened the hosts' account with an opportunistic header in the 77th minute.

Hirofumi Moriyasu put Bridge in behind the Mariners' defence but his shot was deflected by Justin Pasfield.

The ball fell into the path of Carle who calmly headed the ball into the back of the net without breaking stride to breathe life into the contest.

Sydney FC 2 (Carle 77 Emerton 88)
Central Coast Mariners 3 (Zwaanswijk 41, McGlinchey 66, Hearfield 82)
Crowd: 13,947 at the SFS