Gold Coast scare Mariners

They dared to dream following their week from hell but a gallant Gold Coast United had to settle with a draw with ladder leaders Central Coast at Skilled Park on Wednesday night.

They dared to dream following their week from hell but a gallant Gold Coast United had to settle with a draw with ladder leaders Central Coast at Skilled Park on Wednesday night.

Rank outsiders before the match following the ugly sacking of Miron Bleiberg, the embattled bottom-placed club were expected to roll over with ease.

But nobody told interim coach Mike Mulvey and his band of youngsters, who they went ballistic in a stunning display against the competition's pacesetters.

Going 3-1 up after second-gamer Mitch Cooper scored early in the second half, United looked genuinely good value for a shock victory.

However the Mariners tucked away two late goals that resulted in 3-3 draw. Adam Kwasnik was their driving force and avoided an embarrassing defeat in front of 1,141 fans at Robina.

Injury-ravaged Gold Coast once again fielded a quasi-National Youth League team, with returning skipper Michael Thwaite the only change to a side that set a new record for the youngest in Hyundai A-League history on Friday.

And it took the Mariners just four minutes to breach their defence, with Kwasnik on the spot with a simple tap-in after Tom Rogic's cross took a deflection off Zac Anderson.

But United returned serve five minutes later, when a marauding run from the lively Golgol Mebrahtu earned the home side a penalty.

After fighting his way into the box the forward was clipped by Rostyn Griffiths, and Chris Harold made no mistake converting the spot kick for his second ever Hyundai A-League goal.

As good as Mebrahtu's move was, he was shown up in the 17th minute when rising star Ben Halloran scored a sure fire goal of the season contender.

From just inside United's attacking half, Halloran showed incredible acceleration and poise to bolt though the Mariners defensive line, leaving Alex Wilkinson and Patrick Zwaanswijk in his dust.

Letting rip from the top of the box, Central Coast custodian Justin Pasfield got a hand on his shot but it wasn't enough to deny Halloran an absolute peach of a goal - his fourth for the season.

It was enough to elicit a half-time visit to the sheds from billionaire owner Palmer himself, and whatever he said, it worked - Gold Coast came out firing again after the interval.

Eleven minutes in and they'd extended their lead to two goals when none other than Cooper, the 17-year-old caught up in all the off-field turmoil, got his name on the scoresheet.

The one-time captain shaped for his close-range shot with two terrific touches after Halloran slipped him the ball, and his neat finish sparked wild celebrations.

But United were brought back down to earth with a thud when the Mariners equalised with two goals in the space of eight minutes.

First, substitute Bernie Ibini got one back for the visitors on 59 minutes after Thwaite coughed up possession and was made to pay for it.

Then Kwasnik completed his brace by taking advantage of more lacklustre defending from the home side with his 66th minute header to level the scores at three goals apiece.

From there Central Coast began to stamp their authority on the match, with an under-siege United doing well to keep them from edging ahead despite plenty of pressure.

Zwaanswijk had perhaps the best chance to go ahead late on, but his powerful 87th-minute header was wide of the target, meaning the Mariners would have to be satisfied with a draw against the wooden spoon favourites.

Gold Coast United 3 (Harold 9, Halloran 17, Cooper 56) Central Coast Mariners 3 (Kwasnik 4, 66, Ibini 59) Crowd: 1141 at Skilled Park, Robina