Wellington leaves it late

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Wellington Phoenix kept their hopes of a top two finish alive with a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Central Coast Mariners in a pulsating clash at Westpac Stadium.

Despite defensive lapses costing them two goals before half time, Wellington stormed back into the match in the second half through goals from Roly Bonevacia and substitute Kenny Cunningham.

The Mariners thought they’d escaped with a draw, but deep into stoppage time, Cunningham popped up again to fire home, triggering jubilation in the stands.

The win kept the Phoenix just one point off Sydney and Melbourne in the race for the Premier’s Plate, albeit with a worse goal difference than both teams.

Following three games without a win or a goal, Wellington nearly had the perfect start when Mariner’s defender Zac Anderson ballooned a pass straight to Roy Krishna, but the Fijian was only able to shoot straight at Liam Reddy.

They were made to pay five minutes later when Nick Fitzgerald beat the offside trap to run onto a lovely ball from Isaka Cernak. The midfielder had time to read a book before sliding the ball past Wellington custodian Glen Moss.

The goal sparked The Phoenix into action and they turned to their attacking trio of Krishna, Bonevacia and Nathan Burns to try and hoist them back into the contest. On three separate occasions, all three of them found space in the box, but each time they failed trouble Reddy.

Once again, Central Coast made the home side rue their missed chances. Youngster Anthony Kalik drew a foul from Ben Sigmund 25 yards from goal, and Eddie Bosnar exploited a poorly formed wall to fire low and hard towards the goal. Moss couldn’t keep the shot out and the Mariners had an unlikely two-goal lead.

Wellington struggled to control the game, but they still had their chances. Bonevacia exploded into life, cutting inside and forcing an excellent save from Reddy. The resulting corner saw Andrew Durante loop a header onto the crossbar.

After the break, Wellington’s forwards continued to worry the Mariners back four, but they were unable to take advantage of their chances. Krishna was released by Burns but some great pressure from Bosnar forced him to poke the harmlessly at Reddy. Then Michael McGlinchey found space on the edge of the box, but curled his effort wide.

Up the other end, Central Coast played on the break, which proved successful due to the increasing number of players the hosts committed forward. Fitzgerald very nearly killed the game off when he raced forward and turned Durante inside out in the box, but his finish flew inches wide.

The miss would prove costly, as almost immediately the Phoenix grabbed a lifeline through Bonevacia.

The livewire was afforded acres of space on the edge of the penalty box and he made no mistake, squeezing a shot into the corner of the net.

In the aftermath, Reddy appeared to elbow Louis Fenton, although fortunately for him the referee did not see the incident.

The game swung Wellington’s way, as the crowd roared to life and urged the hosts on. Albert Riera’s beautiful dinked ball found the run of Fenton, who was denied by a desperate tackle from Josh Rose.

A minute later and Bonevacia nearly grabbed his second, only for Reddy’s foot to stop his shot, before McGlinchey’s follow-up ricocheted off him and over the bar.

Sensing blood, Wellington coach Ernie Merrick introduced Cunningham and the substitute proved his worth straight away. Fenton drove through the middle of the park and picked out Cunningham, who played a one-two in the box and slotted the ball home.

With time ticking away, the Phoenix pressed, but still looked far from comfortable at the back. The Central Coast’s own substitute Matt Simon peeled off his marker in the six-yard box, but Cernak’s cross was an inch too high for the striker.

In spite of this, the Kiwis looked like the team more likely to win, and as injury time started, they spurned a golden chance to win the game. Substitute Jason Hicks had time to pick his spot when Reddy pushed a cross into his path, but he blazed over from 12 yards.

Fortunately for Hicks, his fellow sub Cunningham saved his blushes, when Fenton again ran at the defence and played in the forward, who slid the ball past a despairing Reddy.

The Mariners were furious, pointing out the goal came 40 seconds after the four minutes of injury time had elapsed, but they could do little about it.

The Phoenix will stay in Wellington next week to host Sydney FC for the right to host a home semi-final. The Mariners travel to Melbourne to take on the Victory.

Wellington Phoenix: 1. Glen Moss (GK), 4. Roly Bonevacia, 5. Michael Boxall, 8. Alex Rodriguez (2. Manny Muscat), 9. Nathan Burns, 10. Michael McGlinchey (15. Jason Hicks), 13. Albert Riera, 16. Louis Fenton, 18. Ben Sigmund, 21. Roy Krishna (7. Kenny Cunningham), 22. Andrew Durante (c)

Central Coast Mariners: 2. Storm Roux, 3. Josh Rose, 5. Zac Anderson, 7. John Hutchinson (c) (16. Liam Rose), 8. Nick Montgomery, 10. Anthony Caceres (18. Glen Trifirio), 11. Nicholas Fitzgerald, 12. Liam Reddy (GK), 20. Anthony Kalik (9. Matt Simon), 23. Isaka Cernak, 25. Eddie Bosnar

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