The Wellington Phoenix had to come from three goals down to draw 3-3 with a committed Petone side in a pre-season friendly at Memorial Park on Tuesday night.
The Central League side shocked the Hyundai A-League team with three goals in 20 minutes either side of halftime and looked headed for a shock victory till the Phoenix, inspired by some young substitutes, found another gear and scored three times in 20 minutes.
Sam Green struck first for Petone in the 31st minute with a superb curling right-foot strike into the top corner of Lewis Italiano’s net.
Van Elia added a second five minutes later from the penalty spot after he had been brought down by Phoenix midfielder Vince Lia.
Six minutes into the second spell Van Elia struck again with a well-struck direct free kick and the game looked up for the Phoenix.
Advised by the sports science team, assistant coach Chris Greenacre, who was in charge of the team with Ernie Merrick on his way to a coach’s meeting in Australia, had planned a number of substitutions and one of those was that Roly Bonevacia would play only 60 minutes.
With two minutes left of his time on the field Bonevacia got his team on the board with a direct free-kick struck low and just inside the post.
Twelve minutes later Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante played a lovely long ball to Michael McGlinchey who controlled the ball superbly and crossed for teenager James McGarry to score with a header.
The youngsters Greenacre had introduced added a zip to the Phoenix’ game and two of the kids combined for the equaliser with Sapreet Singh providing the cross for another teenager, Logan Rogerson, to head home.
Greenacre said Petone had made life difficult for his team and that it had made the match the type of hit out the Phoenix were looking for.
“Petone defended well and scored a couple of really good goals,” Greenacre said.
“We didn’t move the ball quickly enough and gave too much possession away.
“Tough games like this are what we are looking for in pre-season, and it was particularly pleasing that the youngsters did so well when they went on.
“Their enthusiasm lifted us and I thought we were going to get a winner in the last minutes.”