Fast-finishing Melbourne Victory produced a last-ditch miracle to claw their way to a dramatic come-from-behind 2-2 draw with Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium on Friday night.
In front of a full-voiced, near-capacity crowd of 16,504, James Troisi's superb strike deep into injury time gave Victory a well-deserved equaliser after Brazilian Guilherme Finkler's 79th minute strike had given the visitors renewed hope.
Earlier, two strikes in less than three minutes inside the first half-hour through prized United off-season recruit Sergio Cirio, with a penalty, and Jeronimo Neumann, with his third goal of the season, set the Red up nicely before Melbourne charged home ferociously at the death to help salvage an enthralling deadlock.
Daniel Bowles limped off early after sustaining a leg injury, but the Reds were undeterred, looking dangerous in attack, while their back four, piloted by Michael Zullo who was duly switched to left-back, held their line well.
Victory gave the home side a colossal reprieve when Connor Pain wildly sprayed a wide open shot from close range after receiving a perfect cross from Archie Thompson in the 16th minute.
Victory's pain would quickly be Adelaide's gain, the Reds striking two decisive blows in quick succession.
United earned a penalty when diving Victory goal-keeper Nathan Coe was adjudged to have taken out tumbling Jeronimo in the box, much to the displeasure of remonstrative Melbourne captain Mark Milligan and teammate Mitch Nichols, who was yellow carded.
Sergio Cirio duly stepped up and coolly slotted the penalty past wrong-footed Coe, but hometown celebrations were quickly muted as referee Alan Milliner made the diminutive Spaniard take the shot again after noticing players had encroached in the area.
Cirio made no mistake on the second take, the prized off-season recruit calmly pushing the ball into the back of the net to give the Reds first blood.
Less than three minutes later, the score was 2-0 after Jeronimo pouced opportunistically.
Substitute Awer Mabil's fierce drive crashed off the left post and into the lap of Jeronimo, typically hovering in the right attacking place at the right time, tapped in the easiest of putaways past Coe.
Victory, sabotaged by off-side infractions, looked disjointed and out of sync for prolonged patches, but found some rhythm late in the half and created some nervous moments for the hosts by throwing caution to the wind.
In the 35th minute, Archie Thompson was streaming forward one-out with Adelaide keeper Eugene Galekovic but instead of going for the kill, the veteran striker uncharacteristically laid the ball off to Pain, who found the back of the net, only to be adjudged off-side, television replays confirming he was decidedly unlucky.
Defender Nicholas Ansell found space and fired one in the 42nd minute that wouldn't have touched a fourth set of goals before Nichols skewed one way high from directly in front on the cusp of half-time.
Mabil, left free at the far post from a corner, almost gave the Reds a three-goal buffer in the 54th when he nodded one straight into Coe's mits.
A superb tackle from Fabio Ferreira denied Pain from breaking Melbourne's duck before Galekovic, in the 59th minute, produced an excellent save to deny Adama Traore, attacking hard fowling a United turnover.
Former skipper Adrian Leijer connected well with a corner moments later but his shot was fractionally wide, while his successor Milligan's fierce strike in the 71st minute slapped hard into Galekovic's palms, Victory playing with renewed desperation and vigour.
Jason Geria's dangerous ball in the 74th minute was wonderfully blocked by Jon McKain in the 74th minute but Melbourne were pressing hard and would soon get one back when Finker, seven minutes after subbing on for Ansell, demonstrated superb control and nailed a classy goal from range.
Melbourne continued to do all the attacking and almost came up trumps - twice.
Nichols' through ball found the lurking Thompson, whose effort cannoned into the crossbar, before Milligan was denied by a wonderful save from a sprawling Galekovic, who copped an errant boot to the face for his troubles.
Six minutes of injury time buoyed surging Victory, who knew their chance would come.
Galekovic denied Thompson a minute in but Troisi made no mistake moments later when he beat Galekovic all ends up with a nice strike, which cannoned into the crossbar and did just enough to bobble behind the white paint and level the scores.
Adelaide United 2 (Cirio 22, Jeronimo 25)
Melbourne Victory 2 (Finkler 79, Troisi 90)
@ Coopers Stadium, 18/10/2013