Coach Aurelio Vidmar is adamant Melbourne City can still be A-League Men contenders but has put the onus on his charges to tighten up defensively after a dramatic 3-3 draw in their grand final rematch with Central Coast.
Alessandro Lopane salvaged a point when he scored in the 92nd minute at AAMI Park on Sunday but the draw masked an otherwise lacklustre final half-hour for an overrun home side, when Mariners attacker Angel Torres scored a hat-trick.
Eighth-placed Central Coast last won at AAMI Park on March 23, 2014, and they won't have another chance to do so until they face Melbourne Victory on February 25.
Marin Jakolis gave City the lead in the second minute before Torres put the Mariners in control with goals in the 49th and 60th minutes.
City playmaker Tolgay Arslan equalised in the 63rd minute before Colombian Torres restored Central Coast's lead and completed his hat-trick in the 82nd.
"I'm pleased with the way that we fought back and we didn't give up because it would be easier just to roll over at that point," Vidmar said.
"So there is a lot of fight within the group.
"We just really now need to regroup and get back to what we were doing a couple of games ago - more like how we played in the first half and the first few minutes of that second half. That last 30 minutes was dreadful.
"That's the second time that ... we've conceded way too many goals and if you're going to be serious championship contender, giving away so many goals can be difficult.
"I still believe we have a group to go all the way, for sure. But we have to get better in a lot of areas."
City will need to get rolling quickly.
They will likely lose at least two players for the Asian Cup, with injured Mathew Leckie, Aziz Behich and Jamie Maclaren in the selection mix, while Callum Talbot and Curtis Good are in the 50-player extended list.
City enjoyed the perfect start when Behich burst down the left and lifted the ball tantalisingly across the face of goal for Jakolis to tap in at the far post.
But City couldn't build on the lead and seized control of the game in the second half.
The visitors appeared destined to snatch all three points when Torres completed his hat-trick.
But City wouldn't be held out, with Lopane salvaging a point by bundling home Jakolis' late cross.
"To concede an equaliser that late on, it's a bitter blow," Mariners coach Mark Jackson said.
"But we have to look at the game in a bigger context.
"I thought they were the better team in the first half, we couldn't cope with things and we had to tweak things at halftime and we did.
"But I thought we were the better team in the second half and we controlled the game for long periods."
Central Coast defender Jacob Farrell has also been named in Graham Arnold's Asian Cup shortlist.