A shell-shocked Wellington Phoenix fought back from a sloppy start to earn a 2-2 draw with Newcastle Jets at Hutt Recreation Ground on Sunday evening.
The home side found themselves two goals down inside 18 minutes after conceding two soft goals from corners, but then turned in a fine attacking performance with only some wayward finishing denying them all three points.
As it was they needed a superb free kick by substitute Jason Hicks in added time to take a point after Roy Krishna had cut the deficit in the 68th minute by converting one of several chances that came his way.
There was a sense of disbelief in the packed stands when Manny Muscat unluckily headed into his own net from a Jets right wing corner, and minutes later Scott Neville added the visitors’ second from a left wing corner.
From that point there was only one team in it but with Newcastle packing their penalty area and committing foul after foul – 28 in total – the Phoenix found it tough to create clear cut openings.
When they did get in behind the chances were squandered till Krishna found the net.
With time running out and Newcastle down to 10 men after Ben Kanterovski received a second caution, Hicks stepped up to curl a superb left-foot strike into the top corner of the net.
While Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick was frustrated by the number of scoring chances that went begging he was more than happy with the way his team performed.
“The boys are really dejected but I’m not,” Merrick said.
“I patted them on the back and just because that final touch didn’t go in doesn’t mean we didn’t play some terrific football.
“We completely outplayed the opposition but we’ve really got to score goals.
“There is no-one more frustrated than the team but there were just too many positives to ignore.
“We had 20-odd shots, with a lot of them from inside the box, and double the number of passes the opposition had.
“Despite Newcastle having 28 free kicks given against them, which stopped our flow, we played some really good football.”
Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss, Michael Boxall, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Manny Muscat, Albert Riera, Alex Rodriguez, Roly Bonevacia (Kenny Cunningham 66m), Michael McGlinchey (Jason Hicks 71m), Nathan Burns, Roy Krishna.