A late goal from Tim Brown has handed the Wellington Phoenix a miraculous 1-0 victory over luckless Gold Coast United at Skilled Park.
The 30-year-old Kiwi international struck in the 88th minute, latching onto the end of a great free kick from Brazilian whiz Daniel, who had only been introduced to the match six minutes earlier.
Brown’s header was a hammerblow for bottom-placed Gold Coast, who had another dreadful night in front of goal and were made to pay.
Despite dominating large portions of the match, their shots simply refused to drop – for the second week in a row, after they somehow failed to beat Melbourne Heart at the same venue – and the Phoenix took full advantage with their dramatic winner.
To make matters worse, Dylan Macallister’s return from a hamstring strain only lasted 14 minutes with the towering striker appearing to aggravate his injury after he was introduced to the game in the second half.
Wellington raced out of the starting blocks in a bright opening 10 minutes, with Spanish midfielder Dani Sanchez playing a starring role.
Sanchez – who was on trial at Gold Coast in the off-season but was not offered a contract – missed two early chances before finding Paul Ifill with an excellent cross from the right on nine minutes, before the Barbados international put his header over the target.
But having weathered the early Wellington storm, Gold Coast settled and started to get more out of their hefty share of possession, with young gun Ben Halloran again looking threatening.
Mark Paston, who returned to the goalmouth for the Phoenix for the first time since the same fixture in the opening round, kept his side in the game with some terrific stops to close out the opening stanza.
First he denied Michael Thwaite’s 34th minute header, then five minutes later he stuck out a foot to save Paul Beekmans’ close-range attempt.
Despite Paston looking comfortable in goal, United coach Miron Bleiberg urged his players to continue testing the veteran Kiwi in his half-time team talk, which was broadcast live on Fox Sports.
That command almost paid instant dividends as the second half began with a barrage of shots on goal, which peaked with a rasping 20-yard drive from Peter Jungschlager four minutes in.
Only a clearance on the line from Manny Muscat saved Paston’s blushes, with his initial save not nearly enough to stop the ball’s wicked momentum.
Long-distance shots quickly came into vogue as the Phoenix responded with two of their own through substitute Leo Bertos and striker Chris Greenacre.
The latter’s 60th minute effort clipped the crossbar, eliciting a ‘goodness me’ from the miked-up Bleiberg.
Nine minutes later the visitors nearly poked their heads in front after Jonas Salley turned the ball over in his own half to Jimmy Downey.
The speedster was one-on-one with the keeper and could have picked his spot, but United’s Jerrad Tyson did fantastically well to keep him out.
United had plenty of chances to go ahead as the match winded down, but James Brown, Daniel Severino and Salley either spurned their shots or had them blocked by a resolute Wellington defence.
Then Brown popped up with his sucker-punch header, sparking wild celebrations on the Wellington bench and leaving Gold Coast to rue their missed opportunities.
Gold Coast United 0
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Brown 88′)
Crowd: 2135 at Skilled Park