A late Mark Milligan penalty has earned Melbourne Victory a precious point in a pulsating 2-2 draw with Newcastle Jets in their Round 26 Hyundai A-League clash at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
In a frantic start to the match, Golden Boot leader Adam Taggart slotted his 15th goal of the season to open the scoring in the 18th minute before Melbourne skipper Milligan equalised just a few minutes later. Moments later Newcastle regained the lead via an Adrian Leijer own goal to take a 2-1 advantage into half-time.
Newcastle controlled play in the second half but couldn't convert a host of chances and Melbourne made them pay when Archie Thompson was fouled in the box and Milligan converted from the spot to earn his side a share of the points.
The draw keeps Melbourne in the hunt for a top two spot as they draw level with Adelaide and the Wanderers on 38 points, while the Jets are walking the final tightrope, drawing level with the sixth placed Sydney FC on 33 points, with the Sky Blues still to play this weekend.
The match started in mild conditions with a somewhat slippery pitch and it was the home side that adjusted to the conditions best engineering a number of promising raids early in the piece.
Taggart got in behind the Victory defence in just the fourth minute but sent his shot across the face of goal before Jets skipper Ruben Zadkovich sent a vicious long range effort thundering off the crossbar.
Newcastle duly opened the scoring in the 18th minute with some wonderful play. Josh Brillante fired a ball into the feet of Emile Heskey on the edge of the area, who turned and delivered a lovely ball into the box for Taggart who took one touch before steering the ball past the advancing Nathan Coe and into the corner of the net.
The home side's celebrations were cut short when the Victory equalised just three minutes later when a Guy Finkler corner found Leijer at the back post. He headed back across goal where Milligan headed home from point-blank range.
Just two minutes later the Jets were back in front when a David Carney cross saw Joel Griffiths get a touch onto Taggart whose header looped wide. He regained the ball and passed back to Brillante who fired a stinging shot that ricocheted off the far post, then fired into the back of Leijer and deflected into the goal to make it 2-1 after 23 minutes.
The home side continued to push forward in search of third goal. Griffiths went close with a looping free kick, Brillante saw another low drive saved by Coe and Taggart slide a shot narrowly wide and the Jets had to be content with a 2-1 lead at the interval.
Newcastle came out with equal purpose in the second half and worked a number of promising chances without being able to put the ball in the back of the net.
Taggart looked like he might get his second when he ghosted across the penalty spot but he fired his left foot shot straight into the arms of Coe, while Taggart and Griffiths combined to play a lovely ball in for Heskey who just couldn't get enough on the ball.
Carney fired narrowly wide of the target as did second-half replacement Nick Ward as the home side continued to control the tempo of the contest.
Just when it looked as if the Jets had done enough to earn all three points the Victory were given a lifeline in the 85th minute when Josh Mitchell brought down Thompson in the box. Milligan stepped and calmly converted from the spot to make the score 2-2.
The Jets threw everything into the remaining few minutes but the Victory defence held firm to earn a valuable point.
Newcastle Jets 2 (Taggart 18, Leijer 23og)
Melbourne Victory 2 (Milligan 21, 85pen)