The opening game of Central Coast's title defence has finished in a thrilling 1-1 draw as Tomi Juric and Western Sydney snatched an 87th-minute equaliser.
The opening game of Central Coast's title defence has finished in a thrilling 1-1 draw as Tomi Juric and Western Sydney snatched an 87th-minute goal to cancel out Mitchell Duke's strike for the home side earlier in the second half at Bluetongue Stadium.
Duke finished off a great phase of play in the 55th minute, which was assisted by a brilliant final pass from new addition Marcos Flores, to give the home side the lead until new signing Juric finished off a great cross from Youssouf Hersi late in the fixture.
The Mariners handed club debuts to Kiwi Storm Roux and Argentinian playmaker Flores but in a surprise move for the visitors Japanese marquee Shinji Ono started the game on the bench.
A sell-out crowd of 17,134 in Gosford saw reigning premiers Western Sydney dominate proceedings early as their midfield was able to negate the impact of Flores.
A goalmouth scramble in the 15th minute should have opened the scoring for the visitors who forced Mariners goalkeeper Justin Pasfield into a double-save before midfielder Hersi blasted over the crossbar.
This had come only moments after Roux continued his industrious early work by getting a ball into the Wanderers box but was unable to find Nick Fitzgerald.
In the 21st minute Fitzgerald had a shot blocked and four minutes later Mateo Poljak shot wide barely after Mariners defender Joshua Rose was disposed of the ball.
Wanderers striker Labinot Haliti couldn't connect for Tony Popovic's side with two chances he had late in the half.
The Mariners came close to earning a penalty in an incident which was sandwiched in between those two opportunities for Haliti.
Western Sydney's Adam D'Apuzzo out-muscled Roux as they tussled on the edge of the penalty area but calls for a Mariners spot-kick were waved away by referee Kris Griffiths-Jones.
Late in the half Mariners veteran Mile Sterjovski had an attempt go over the bar as the sides went to the break deadlocked at 0-0 before Duke opened up the scoring with his 55th-minute strike.
After the goal to Graham Arnold's side, Popovic didn't wait long before bringing on key substitutes Ono and Juric.
Following those changes Wanderers striker Mark Bridge had two chances in the 62nd and 74th minute but the Mariners held their ground.
The Mariners had cause for concern as Flores went down with an apparent knee injury and was substituted in the 79th minute.
The introduction of Ono nearly paid dividends as Pasfield had to save an 81st-minute free kick from 34 year-old Ono.
But the visitors didn't have long to wait until Juric's equaliser saw them take a point away from home.
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Duke 55) Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Juric 87) Crowd: 17,134 @ Bluetongue Stadium