Oskar Zawada has scored his 10th goal of the Isuzu UTE A-League season to snatch a point for the Wellington Phoenix.
The Polish striker has found the back of the net in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time to secure the Phoenix a 1-1 draw with the second-placed Central Coast Mariners at Industree Group Stadium in Gosford.
The Mariners had led from the 12th minute, when former Nix defender James McGarry scored his second goal of the season against his former club.
Central Coast continued to lead late into the second-half even though they were reduced to 10 men inside an hour when centre back Brian Kaltak was sent off.
In time added on Zawada rescued Wellington with a clever backheel to reach his 10-goal target in just his 18th game.
The Phoenix remain fifth on the A-League ladder, but are now level on points with fourth-placed Western Sydney Wanderers and are still just one win behind the Mariners.
Head coach Ufuk Talay is pleased to be leaving Gosford with a share of the spoils.
“We weren’t at our best and for me when you’re not at your best it’s very important you try to stay in the game,” Talay told media after the match.
“We played a good opposition this evening. We started the game off well. The first time they came at us they scored and then Central Coast had the better of the game.
“I think we dropped our heads a little bit. But the boys still worked hard to get themselves back into the game.
“The boys didn’t stop that’s the main thing. The attitude was good and to get a point when you’re not playing well is very important.”
Ufuk Talay made two changes to the XI which started last Friday night’s 3-0 win over Western United, with fit-again defender Scott Wootton and fullback Sam Sutton reinstated to the starting line-up. Tim Payne moved to right back in place of the suspended Callan Elliot.
After an even start to the match Mariners capitalised on the game’s first goalscoring opportunity in the 12th minute. McGarry volleyed home a cross from fellow fullback Storm Roux from six yards out.
Bozhidar Kraev registered the Nix’s first attempt on goal half a dozen minutes later, but the Bulgarian midfielder’s mishit shot wasn’t able to properly test Central Coast ‘keeper Danny Vukovic.
Kaltak kept Zawada quiet for much of the first-half and the Phoenix were well marshalled by the opposition defence, who limited their opportunities.
Despite having few chances, the Nix should have equalised in the 39th minute when Zawada teed up Yan Sasse on the penalty spot. The Brazilian beat Vukovic, but Roux produced an incredible goal-line clearance to keep Central Coast in front.
The majority of the first-half chances came in the final four minutes before halftime, with both sides having opportunities to add to the scoresheet.
The best chance fell to Central Coast forward Marco Tulio, who got in behind the Wellington back four and then blasted a shot straight into Oli Sail’s head.
Zawada and Steven Ugarkovic called Vukovic into action, but neither of their shots were able to test the Mariners’ ‘keeper and draw the Phoenix level at halftime.
It was an end-to-end start to the second-half, but neither goalkeeper was called into action.
The Nix’s best chance fell to Kraev, who blazed over the goal after getting into a promising position in the 58th minute.
Moments later the match turned on its head when Kaltak was shown a straight red for a foul on David Ball.
Central Coast made a triple change after going a man down, bringing on some defensive reinforcements to try and protect their one goal advantage for the remaining half an hour.
The hosts defended resolutely, frustrating the Phoenix and limiting their opportunities, and Sail was called upon to keep Wellington in the game.
He managed to keep out a shot from Brazilian forward Moresche in the 80th minute and then moments later produced a great reflex save to deny McGarry his second goal of the game.
The Nix were unable to test Sail’s opposite Vukovic, with substitute Ben Old and Ball missing the target with their shots from the edge of the box.
Zawada finally drew the Phoenix level in the fourth minute of time added on, beating Vukovic with a clever backheel after Wootton won the initial header from Old’s corner.
There was more drama before the final whistle with Central Coast reduced to nine men when Moresche was shown a straight red card and coach Nick Montgomery has banished to the stands.
Both sides threw players forward in the remaining minutes but it remained 1-1 when the final whistle was blown.
The Wellington Phoenix will now turn their attentions to their first match in the capital in six weeks, when they will host the resurgent Newcastle Jets next Saturday afternoon.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 14. Alex RUFER (c) (8. Ben OLD 64th), 19. Sam SUTTON, 21. Joshua LAWS, 31. Yan SASSE (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 75th).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 15. Nikko BOXALL.
Central Coast Mariners: 20. Danny VUKOVIC (gk) (c), 3. Brian KALTAK, 4. Joshua NISBET (13. Harrison STEELE 64th), 5. James MCGARRY (22. Cameron WINDUST 84th), 6. Maximilien BALARD, 7. Samuel SILVERA, 9. Jason CUMMINGS (10. MORESCHE 64th), 11. Beni NKOLOLO (31. Christian THEOHAROUS 75th), 15. Storm ROUX, 18. Jacob FARRELL, 98. Marco TULIO (23. Daniel HALL 64th).
Unused substitutes: 24. Yaren SOZER (gk), 28. James BAYLISS.
5. James MCGARRY (Central Coast Mariners) – 12th
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – 90+4
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 34th
3. Brian KALTAK (Central Coast Mariners) – red – 58th
Nick Montgomery (Central Coast Mariners) – yellow – 60th
8. Ben OLD (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 65th
10. David BALL (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 70th
18. Jacob FARRELL (Central Coast Mariners) – yellow – 90th
24. Oskar VAN HATTUM (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90+5
4. Scott WOOTTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90+7
10. MORESCHE (Central Coast Mariners) – red – 90+7
Nick Montgomery (Central Coast Mariners) – yellow/red – 90+8