The Wellington Phoenix have kept their Premier's Plate hopes alive in the most dramatic of circumstances, coming from 2-0 down to beat the Mariners 3-2 in injury time in Wellington.
Goals from Nick Fitzgerald and Eddy Bosnar gave the visitors a 2-0 half-time lead, but the introduction of Kenny Cunningham was the catalyst for a Phoenix comeback as the Costa Rican striker scored twice, including an astonishing late winner.
As well as emphatically breaking a three-game goal drought, the win – and the nature in which it was achieved – will give the Phoenix huge confidence ahead of a possible shoot-out with Sydney FC next week for a spot in the top two, and even an unlikely piece of silverware, depending on Melbourne Victory’s results.
0-1 – Nick Fitzgerald, 11 minutes
Isaka Cernak’s slide rule pass defeated the offside trap as Louis Fenton was slow to push up. Fitzgerald collected the ball on the run and finished coolly past Glen Moss at his near post.
- – Eddy Bosnar, 35 minutes
The centre-back fired a fierce left-footed free-kick through a flimsy Phoenix wall and while goalkeeper Glen Moss got a hand to the ball he couldn’t keep it out.
1-2 – Roly Bonevacia, 65 minutes
The Dutchman broke a six-hour Phoenix goal drought when he received a pass from Nathan Burns in the penalty arc and angled a perfectly placed shot past Liam Reddy into the bottom corner.
2-2 – Kenny Cunningham, 79 minutes
As the ball bounced around in the Mariners’ penalty area, it rebounded off a falling Nick Montgomery and onto the chest of Cunningham, who controlled and finished with aplomb.
3-2 – Kenny Cunningham, 90 + 5 minutes
With just seconds remaining, Roly Bonevacia turned the ball into the path of Cunningham who showed composure to side-foot past the advancing Reddy and cue scenes of utter euphoria among his team-mates and in the stands.
After mounting a comeback from 0-2 down to level at 2-2, it appeared the Phoenix would have to settle for a point when substitute Jason Hicks blazed over from six yards in injury time. But Cunningham’s late, late show supplied the most dramatic finish seen at Westpac Stadium for several seasons.
Opta Data key stats
The Phoenix had 24 shots to the Mariners’ eight, but appeared destined for only a draw until Cunningham put away the final chance of the game.
Central Coast contributed fully to a gripping contest and shaded possession, as well as playing nearly 90 more passes than their hosts.
The Phoenix won nine corners, taking their total for the season to 149, from which they are yet to score.
At 2-0 up and more than an hour gone, Nick Fitzgerald broke into the penalty area, but fired his shot inches wide from a narrow angle. At 3-0, Central Coast would have been out of the sight, but a minute later Roly Bonevacia scored to start the Phoenix comeback.
Back to the drawing board
The Mariners looked for all the world as though a first away win of the season was coming their way in newly appointed coach Tony Walmsley’s first game in full-time charge, until a manic final 25 minutes saw them leave Wellington empty-handed.
The Final Word
Football has the habit of delivering moments that Hollywood scriptwriters would reject for being too fanciful. Kenny Cunningham was the unlikeliest of heroes for the Phoenix as he came off the bench to make the most memorable contribution of his two seasons in Wellington. He is the quintessential box of chocolates – you never, ever know what you’ll get – but tonight he delivered a pair of after-dinner mints for the Yellow Fever to saviour.