With the grand finalists set and the season almost complete, we head straight into the talking points from the second week of the A-League finals.
A Robbie Fowler inspired North Queensland Fury claimed their first A-League point at the expense of an injury-hit Adelaide United after the two sides staged a dramatic 3-3 draw at Hindmarsh Stadium on Friday night.
The Fury led twice before cruelly bowing to a 93rd minute penalty from United’s stand-in captain Lucas Pantelis after sub Dyron Daal handled a corner as he jumped between two opponents.
Pantelis coolly stroked home his spot kick to save the home team’s blushes after it had led at halftime but looked headed for a third consecutive defeat when the Fury netted twice in four minutes to go 3-2 up.
But the A-League rookies couldn’t hold on despite carving out the bulk of the good chances across the 90 minutes.
Goals from English import Lloyd Owusu, in his first start, and Pantelis ensured United led 2-1 at halftime after Liverpool great Fowler opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a slick half volley from a James Robinson cross.
But they had to ride out a rollercoaster game in rain-soaked conditions with a much improved North Queensland unit almost breaking their duck after three losses.
They came out aggressively and were unlucky not to at least net a couple before halftime as defender Michael Marrone chested a shot off the line in the 23rd minute and keeper Eugene Galekovic also had to work overtime to keep Fowler and company at bay in his 100th national league match.
Galekovic could only dive in vain when Fowler stole into the penalty area late to connect perfectly with Robinson’s cross.
Socceroo squad member Shane Stefanutto rifled a drive just past the far post in the 19th minute before United drew level through Pantelis in the 23rd minute.
The left footer neatly brought down a Marrone cross and beat Fury defender Paul Kohler before squeezing it past Paul Henderson with his right foot.
Robinson should have put the brave Fury back in front in the 32nd minute when he ran onto a cushioned header from Daniel McBreen but Galekovic blocked his low drive and then palmed over his rebound lob for a corner.
Less than a minute later, former Sheffield Wednesday and Cheltenham Town striker Owusu made it 2-1, heading a Pantelis cross into the opposite corner to electrify the 10,773 fans, including a “hip hop-style” celebration.
But the Fury were not done and Daal ran onto a long pass in the 83rd minute to tap it past Galekovic for 2-2 and then Daniel McBreen started wild celebrations as he headed home a Fred Agius cross in the 87th minute for 3-2 before Pantelis levelled it.
Fowler praised his team-mates’ performance, saying the service up front had been good.
“We’ve shown last week and tonight that we’re heading the right way,” he said. “Tonight we took it to Adelaide who were one of the best teams in the A-League last season.”
Fury coach Ian Ferguson was pleased with the point and buoyed by the performance.
“I’m disappointed that we dropped two points but happy to get one,” he said. “We’re starting to get the balance right (in the team) and we kept attacking tonight and created many good chances.”
Adelaide coach Aurelio Vidmar said his team was “absolutely lucky” to get a point from the match.
“We’re very fragile mentally at the moment,” he said. “It’s not easy when you lose a couple of games. We’re certainly playing very jittery. Now we need to show real character. It’s not going to be easy to turn around.”
The Fury finished with nine shots on target to Adelaide’s six.