A missed penalty from Central Coast Mariners striker Daniel McBreen handed the Wellington Phoenix a share of the spoils in a 1-1 draw at Westpac Stadium on Sunday.
An early goal to Matt Simon gave the visitors the advantage before Kenny Cunningham equalised on the stroke of half-time to finish what was a frustrating half for the hosts on a high.
The visitors found attacking opportunities hard to come by in the second half but were awarded a penalty by referee Matthew Gillett when Trent Sainsbury was fouled by goalkeeper Glen Moss.
They didn’t make the most of it however with McBreen’s attempt well wide of the mark and the Phoenix survived with a point from the tense encounter.
While ugly, what will please coach Ernie Merrick is the fight his side showed in the dying moments of the first half despite being outplayed early in the match.
Jeremy Brockie’s form, however, will leave the former Melbourne Victory coach asking questions of his main striker. The 2012-13 Golden Boot runner-up hasn’t scored a goal in 10 rounds, with his last goal coming in the Phoenix’ 2-3 loss to the Melbourne Victory in round four.
Mariners coach Phil Moss was left ruing what could have been as McBreen’s missed penalty cost his side the chance to reduce the deficit between themselves and second-placed Western Sydney Wanderers to three points.
For the Phoenix the match presented the chance to win their fourth consecutive game for the first time since 2012 while the Mariners were looking to avoid a third consecutive away loss.
A minute’s applause for former general manager of Wellington Newspapers Ian Wells, who passed away aged 76. He and John Dow conceived the idea for a Wellington franchise to take the A-League licence from the now defunct Auckland Knights in 2007.
While the Phoenix’s last three victories illustrated a positive brand of football there were signs of an unwanted nostalgia as the hosts resorted to error-riddled, stuttering football in the first half. Both sides were also hindered by the presence of what can only be pleasantly described as a Wellington breeze.
The Mariners dominated early territory and were rewarded when Matt Simon scored the opener after 16 minutes. The Phoenix failed to clear their lines with the ball ricocheting to Simon, who scored his 37th A-League goal in his 128th appearance and give the visitors a deserved 1-0 buffer.
It looked to be enough for a 1-0 half-time lead, but Cunningham’s strike in the last minute of the first half lifted the spirits of the hosts and the ever-vocal Yellow Fever.
The Costa Rican made the most of a half-chance to outpace Kiwi Storm Roux and score his second goal for the hosts and give them a share of the spoils at half-time.
Despite defender Michael Boxall’s fifth yellow card in eight games early in the second half it was the Phoenix who came out the more positive of the two sides, at one stage earning consecutive corners as they tried to capitalise on the staunch north-westerly.
McBreen’s missed penalty added some frustrations for the travelling supporters before Roy Krishna became the 79th footballer to play for the Wellington Phoenix and the first of Fijian descent to play in the A-League after being brought on for Stein Huysegems late in the half.
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Cunningham 45)
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Simon 16)
Crowd: 7000 @ Westpac Stadium