Two cruel minutes at the end of a defiant ninety from Sydney United allowed home side Sydney Olympic to emerge victorious with a 3-1 result at Belmore Sports Ground on Sunday evening.
Having resisted all efforts to break through their defence more than once, after gaining a lead shortly before half time, the industrious United side capitulated in the dying stages as they faced a savage onslaught from a desperate, but resourceful opponent.
It seemed that a flare thrown immediately behind their goal, five minutes from the end, may have unsettled the visitors whose composure appeared to dissipate as the final minutes ticked away.
Much of Sydney Olympic's improvement, which led to them scoring three second-half goals, can also be laid on the shoulders of half time substitute Kresimer Marusic whose probings opened up a somewhat square United defence which in the first half had restricted Olympic's strike force to shots from outside the box.
Olympic's midfield flanker Elias Augerinos was caught napping on half way by the prowling Francis Awaritefe in the 41st minute, which led to Sydney United taking an unexpected lead.
His mistake, however, was remedied with an excellent all round performance from the player who scored the equaliser later in the game in thrilling fashion.
Chances galore were spurned by the Olympic front runners in the first period with Steve Tolios working overtime and his defenders under constant pressure, but the ball would not go in the net and much of that was because shots were tried from too far out to trouble the opposition.
When they did get close enough, Tolios was brilliant against his old club.
Tolios was one of many facing his old team mates and another who was in the same situation at the club, having played for the Belmore club last season, Zlatko Arambasic, was the man who punished Olympic with a well taken goal in the 41st minute.
Awaritefe fed Arambasic who then sprayed the ball wide to the right where Tom Pondeljak was able to advance into the area and deliver a fierce shot.
Olympic keeper Clint Bolton could only parry the shot to the feet of Arambasic, who had continued his run into the box and was able to rifle the loose ball into the roof of the net.
Bolton had required two attempts to claim an earlier shot from Arambasic, after Aytek Genc had threaded the ball through a needle eyed opening.
Pablo Cardozo and Nick Carle were enterprising in attack fpr Olympic, yet once inside the 18 yard box they failed to find the target and their team mates were also unable to make the most of chances provided by the clever pairing, with Greg Owens and George Goutzoulis the guiltiest.
Sydney United had a number of chances to add to their lead, Genc on the left cutting in and hitting the target nicely in the 48th, only for Bolton to push the shot to safety and then Danny Burt's header a minute later was also intercepted by the keeper, without much conviction, requiring a handily placed defender to boot clear before Awaritefe could pounce.
Olympic worked their way into the game in the last half hour and had United pinned back, the visitors relying on counter attacks and attempts to control possession to maintain or even extend their lead.
Then Augerinos got his head to a cross from the right by Lindsay Wilson, which Tolios saved at point blank range, in the 65th, but five minutes later a carbon copy move saw the same man race into the box to connect with a bullet-like header which gave the keeper no chance and brought the two sides level at last.
United almost regained the lead in the 72nd when Goran Talevski dribbled past a swag of defenders, but elected to shoot and found only the side netting when team mates were handily positioned in the goalmouth.
Pondeljak also had a strong shot saved in the 77th by Bolton after another nice ball played in by Genc.
A tiring United then found itself unable to withstand a barnstorming finish by Olympic, who twice sprang the offside trap to deliver their strikers through to face Tolios.
Thus exposed, the custodian had no answer when first Damon Collina, in the 88th and then fellow substitute, Franco Parisi, waltzed into the box and finished clinically as they raced onto through passes from deep, though there was a hint of offside about the last goal.
Marusic was the architect of Olympic's second half impetus with some clever passes and changes of direction. Augerinos and Owens both acted as willing accomplices to the wily Croatian who was no doubt the most delighted of all the players facing their former club as he was able to put one over his old club for the significant 3-1 win.
Olympic's season is now well and truly back on track, while United can take comfort from how close they came to snatching a precious point until that flare and Olympic's last ditch drive for victory denied them.