The Wellington Phoenix have produced a stirring fightback to become the first side to take a point from Melbourne City this Isuzu UTE A-League season.
The Phoenix have scored two goals in the final quarter of an hour to draw 2-2 with the league leaders at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
City capitalised on two Wellington mistakes to take a 2-0 halftime lead and the hosts maintained a two goal advantage until the 79th minute, when fullback Sam Sutton pulled a goal back for the Nix, thumping a volley past goalkeeper Thomas Glover.
Substitute Kosta Barbarouses then equalised in the 90th minute, scoring his first A-League goal since returning to the hometown club.
It’s the Phoenix’s third draw from four matches this season and leaves them ninth on the table.
Head coach Ufuk Talay felt a draw was the least his side warranted.
“For me honestly I believe we didn’t deserve to lose the game,” Talay told media post-game.
“I thought we started the game off pretty well. We conceded two goals from our own mistakes, turnovers. They hit us well on the counter and scored two goals, other than that I thought we had full control of the game. At moments we played straight through them.
“I think the changes influenced the game and we ended up getting a draw.”
Talay praised his side’s character to overturn a two goal deficit.
“It’s not easy coming to play City away and going two-nil down and coming back and getting yourself back into the game.
“I’m disappointed because I think we started the game off pretty well and allowed them to go ahead with two counter-attacking goals, but the boys were resilient and they worked hard to get themselves back in the game and overall we walk away with a point.
“Hopefully that builds a lot of confidence in the players. They showed that we can play.
“We try to play football, we try to play a certain brand of football and I think the boys executed it well at times, not all the time, but well at times and that should give us a lot of confidence ahead of two home games.”
Talay made five changes to the XI which started last week’s defeat to the Newcastle Jets, with David Ball, Yan Sasse, Ben Old, Nicholas Pennington and Callan Elliot all promoted to the starting line-up. Tim Payne switched from right fullback to centre back.
“I think players need to recognise that if they don’t perform, they don’t start,” Talay said. “We didn’t get that last week against Newcastle. We didn’t start the game off well so we made some changes to make sure that players know that there’s another guy ready to take his spot.
“And it’s great to see the guys that didn’t start, when they came on they did a good job.”
The Phoenix settled the quicker of the two sides and had three goalscoring opportunities in the first 10 minutes. Sutton volleyed off target after finding space in the box before Ben Waine had a couple of chances in 60 seconds.
City defender Thomas Lam did well to partially block Waine’s first effort, but the young striker had a great chance moments later when Clayton Lewis put him through on goal. Unfortunately for the Nix Waine dragged his shot wide of Glover’s right-hand post.
The hosts capitalised in the 16th minute, taking the lead against the run of play. Marco Tilio earned City a penalty and then Jamie Maclaren converted from the spot, sending Oli Sail the wrong way.
The Phoenix continued to have the lion’s share of possession, but the majority of it was in their own half as they struggled to regularly break through the Melbourne City press.
They then gifted the hosts their second goal 10 minutes before halftime, with forward Tilio slotting a shot past Sail after the Nix turned over possession in midfield.
The second-half started in a similar fashion and Talay responded by making a triple change in the 54th minute, with Oskar Zawada, Bozhidar Kraev and Barbarouses replacing Waine, Ball and Sasse.
The substitutes made an near immediate impact. Kraev found the back of the net in the 64th minute, thumping a header past Glover. Unfortunately for Wellington he was marginally offside, and the goal was ruled out.
Moments later Zawada had an opportunity of his own after being played in by Kraev. But the Polish dragged his shot wide of goal.
Eleven minutes from fulltime the Nix finally had a reward for their efforts, with Sutton producing a stunning left-footed volley that burst through Glover’s hands.
Centre back Scott Wootton had a chance to draw the Phoenix level in the 86th minute, but he headed a Lewis corner over the bar from a couple of yards out.
In the final minute of normal time Old slipped Barbarouses through on goal and the veteran All Whites forward threaded a quick shot past Glover and into the far corner of the City ‘keeper’s net.
Barbarouses was again in the thick of the action moments later, when he was fouled by centre back Thomas Lam, who received his second yellow card for the offence, reducing the hosts to 10 men in second-half stoppage time.
The Nix had the best chance to score the match-winner before the final whistle with Lewis shooting straight at Glover after finding some space on the edge of the area in the 98th minute.
But Wellington had to be content with a share of the spoils.
The Wellington Phoenix will return home next Sunday afternoon for their fifth round match against Macarthur FC at Sky Stadium.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 8. Ben OLD (21. Joshua LAWS 90+4), 10. David BALL (11. Bozhidar KRAEV 55th), 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON (5. Steven UGARKOVIC 85th), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE (9. Oskar ZAWADA 55th), 19. Sam SUTTON, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 31. Yan SASSE (7. Kosta BARBAROUSES 55th).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM.
Melbourne City: 1. Thomas GLOVER(gk), 6. Thomas LAM, 7. Matthew LECKIE, 9. Jamie MACLAREN (c), 13. Aiden O’NEILL, 14. Valon BERISHA, 16. Taras GOMULKA (8. Richard VAN DER VENNE 69th), 22. Curtin GOOD, 23. Marco TILIO (15. Andrew NABBOUT, 72nd), 25. Callum TALBOT, 38. Jordan BOS.
Unused substitutes: 33. Matthew SUTTON (gk), 2. Scott GALLOWAY, 3. Scott JAMIESON, 18. Jordon HALL, 36. Kerrin STOKES.
9. Jamie MACLAREN (Melbourne City) – 16th pen
23. Marco TILIO (Melbourne City) – 34th
19. Sam SUTTON (Wellington Phoenix) – 79th
7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (Wellington Phoenix) – 90th
6. Tim PAYNE (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 15th
16. Taras GOMULKA (Melbourne City) – yellow – 40th
13. Aiden O’NEILL (Melbourne City) – yellow – 41st
13. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 50th
6. Thomas LAM (Melbourne City) – yellow – 63rd
25. Callum TALBOT (Melbourne City) – yellow – 77th
17. Callan ELLIOT (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 83rd
6. Thomas LAM (Melbourne City) – yellow/red – 90+2