Late goal saves Central Coast in A-League


SYDNEY (AP) -- Troy Hearfield headed an equalizer in injury time to earn Central Coast a 1-1 draw with Sydney FC to preserve its place atop Australian football's A-League.

Second-placed Brisbane also drew 1-1 with the Melbourne Heart to stay three points behind Central Coast with three matches remaining in the regular season.

Sydney FC remained three points outside the top six teams that will make the playoffs, while star-studded Melbourne Victory lost 3-1 at home to Newcastle to remain in eighth place and an almost unbridgeable eight points from playoff contention.

Wellington beat troubled Gold Coast 2-0 to move up to third place in the standings, while Perth beat Adelaide to stay level in fourth.

The Wellington-Gold Coast match had been in doubt after the midweek termination of Gold Coast's league license for breaches of its participation agreement. Football Federation Australia has said Gold Coast will now be able to play out the remainder of the regular season.

Central Coast once enjoyed an 11-point lead in the standings, but it has won only one of its last six games to allow Brisbane to close to within the margin of a single win.

Central Coast faced another defeat on Saturday when a close-range strike from youngster Joel Chianese -- his second goal in four games -- gave Sydney FC a 1-0 lead after 55 minutes.

Hearfield's late equalizer was a boost to Central Coast, which faces a punishing schedule with its first Asian Champions League match against Tianjin Teda in China on Wednesday followed by a game in Perth next Sunday.

"We played against a very good Sydney team tonight, a Sydney team that were desperate with their top six chances on the line and we had to really dig deep," Mariners coach Graham Arnold said.

Sydney coach Vitezslav Lavicka was unhappy that his team's bid to seal a top-six place had been foiled again by a late goal.

"Normally when we pick up a point against the leader it's quite positive, but we all know that we needed more than one point tonight," Lavicka said.

Brisbane looked set to post its fifth straight win when striker Besart Berisha was brought down by Simon Colosimo and referee Ryan Shepheard pointed to the penalty spot in stoppage time. The win would have been enough to move Brisbane into first place on goal difference.

But Melbourne Heart goalkeeper Clint Bolton deflected Mohamed Adnan's penalty strike wide of goal, leaving the Roar to settle for a 1-1 draw.

"You only look at missed opportunities at the end of the year when you look at the ladder," Brisbane coach Ange Postecoglou said.

Former Leeds and Liverpool star Harry Kewell scored from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute to draw the Melbourne Victory level at 1-1 after Ryan Griffiths had scored first for Newcastle.

But two goals by teenager Jacob Pepper -- the first of which was his maiden score in the A-League -- clinched Newcastle's win.

The loss ended Melbourne's 15-match unbeaten streak at home.