Western United moved to the top of the A-League despite conceding two late goals, as Macarthur FC rallied to force a 2-2 draw at Campbelltown Stadium.
Trailing 2-0 late in Monday’s game, Macarthur pulled one back through a fine curling strike from substitute Lachie Rose in the 77th minute.
The Bulls, who hadn’t played since Boxing Day, secured a point when a Tomislav Uskok header from an 88th-minute corner was deflected into the net by United defender Leo Lacroix.
United went close on a couple of occasions in the last few minutes but couldn’t get ahead again.
The point nevertheless moved them one clear of Melbourne Victory, who have a game in hand.
The winner of the game was guaranteed first spot and United were initially more clinical against Macarthur, which hadn’t played since Boxing Day.
United’s five previous wins had all been by a 1-0 margin and for a long time on Monday it looked like that score would be repeated.
While United’s Jamie Young was the busier goalkeeper, making half a dozen first-half saves, the visitors always looked dangerous in counter-attacking transitions and scored two well-constructed goals.
United coach John Aloisi made six changes to his side with star Alessandro Diamanti one of the rested players.
His youngsters stepped up with Nicolas Milanovic scoring his first A League goal in his first start when he swept in a Ben Garuccio cross in the 16th minute to give the visitors the lead.
The visitors doubled their advantage in the 74th minute when Aleksandar Prijovic swept in a fine first-time pass from fellow substitute Lachie Wales.
“It was very humid here, It was a tough night for the boys physically but they worked well, they worked hard,” Aloisi said.
“There’s a lot of heads that are down In there, but I’m proud of them.
“We felt we were going to win the game, but in football things can turn very quickly and these things happen.”
The point moved Macarthur up a place to fourth, two points behind Western with three games in hand. Adelaide are third.
Bulls’ coach Ante Milcic was pleased with the way his side reacted after their long break and fought back from a two-goal deficit.
“I always knew it would be a difficult one for us particularly when its 36 days since our last A league fixture, so that was a big concern, and it was actually quite humid conditions tonight,” Milicic said.
“With the majority of our squad having COVID it was difficult circumstances for us, but I’m super pleased that the boys ended up getting a point because I felt because that we were really good tonight, and we deserved something from the game.”
Milicic acknowledged the strong impact of his substitutes with Rose scoring and Ulises Davila going close on a number of occasions.
Apostols Giannou , an international with both Greece and Australia, had a couple of good first-half chances on his Macarthur debut, but Young blocked one shot with his legs and then saved a close-range header.