A stunning late free-kick from substitute Jason Hicks grabbed the Wellington Phoenix a share of the points in a pulsating 2-2 draw with the Newcastle Jets at the Hutt Recreation Ground.
The Jets – who hadn’t scored from a corner all season – scored from two in quick succession to shock their hosts and go into a 2-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes.
The Phoenix never stopped chasing goals and built constant pressure until the dam finally burst in the second half, firstly through Roy Krishna and then Hicks’ superb curling effort deep into added time.
1-0 Newcastle – own-goal (12')
A corner was curled to the near post and under pressure from Jacob Pepper, Manny Muscat and Roly Bonevacia conspired to deflect the ball into their own net.
2-0 Newcastle – Scott Neville (18')
A pinpoint corner from Andrew Hoole was met at the near post by Neville, whose brilliant downward header beat Glen Moss and flew into the far corner.
2-1 - Wellington – Roy Krishna (68')
A low cross from the right from Nathan Burns skidded across a crowded six-yard box and found its way through to Roy Krishna whose sliding finish gave the Phoenix a foothold in the game.
2-2 – Jason Hicks (90+4')
Burns won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area and substitute Hicks stepped up to curl a wonderful dipping effort over the wall and into the top right-hand corner to square the ledger.
Deep into the first half, a left-wing cross was met brilliantly by a diving Edson Montano, but his header cannoned off the post and away to safety. At 3-0 up, the Jets would have been hard to catch.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
The Phoenix had 21 shots to the Jets’ seven, demonstrating their chase for the game after they found themselves 2-0 down. Unfortunately, less than a third of their efforts were on target.
The Phoenix played 498 passes to the Jets’ 296 and with 83 per cent accuracy. By contrast, less than two-thirds of Newcastle’s passes found their intended target. Overall possession was also heavily weighted in the Phoenix’s favour at 63 per cent.
With just five minutes of A-League football under his belt this season, Jason Hicks showed his ability with a dead ball and saw reward for the hours of practise he puts in on the training pitch as his pinpoint free-kick flew into the top corner.
Ben Kantarovski’s red card with time running out heaped even more pressure on a Jets side that was already defending almost constantly. The extra man advantage told as the game went deep into injury time, and what would have been just the second win of a wretched season slipped through the Jets' grasp.
Michael McGlinchey departed in the second half after taking an unintentional blow to the head from Mitch Cooper’s shoulder. Thankfully the All Whites midfielder looked dazed rather than concussed.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
For the third game in succession, the Phoenix were unable to convert their plethora of chances into three points. On the weight of goalscoring opportunities alone, they should have won comfortably, but were unable to supply the final touch on numerous, frustrating occasions.
The Jets arrived goal-less in four away games and winless in 11 and showed enough fight to suggest there is light at the end of what has been a dark season.
At least local pizza franchise Hell Pizza can cool down their ovens – their offer of a free pizza to everyone in the crowd if Nathan Burns scored will go unredeemed.
Wellington Phoenix: Moss, Boxall, Sigmund, Durante, Muscat, Riera, Rodriguez, Bonevacia (Cunningham), McGlinchey (Hicks), Burns, Krishna.
Newcastle Jets: Kennedy, Neville (Cowburn), Regan, Mullen, Gallagher (Cooper), Kantarovski, Pepper, Caravella, Hoole, Montano (Pavicevic), Lee Ki-Je.
Scorers: Wellington: Krishna, Hicks; Newcastle: own-goal, Neville
Red cards: Newcastle: Ben Kantarovski
Yellow cards: Newcastle: Sam Gallagher, Andrew Hoole; Wellington: Manny Muscat, Alex Rodriguez
Conditions: Overcast, light rain at times, 17 degrees