Wellington Phoenix 1
Perth Glory 1
This was a performance if not a result on which a season can turn.
The Phoenix produced a display which deserved three points but had to settle for one, thanks largely to an inexplicable VAR-inspired red card that left the hosts justifiably aggrieved.
Wellington, on a three-match losing streak, were given little chance against unbeaten A-League leaders Perth, who arrived in the capital on a four-match winning run.
But in a role reversal, the Phoenix looked the title challengers and the Glory the wooden spoon contenders for much of this match.
An hour in, a dominant Wellington led 1-0 thanks to a Roy Krishna goal, having taken 10 shots to Perth's zero.
Then the match began to turn, coinciding with the arrival of Diego Castro off the bench in the 65th minute. Phoenix coach Mark Rudan responded five minutes later by sending on Ryan Lowry to do an old-fashioned man-marking job on the skilful Spaniard.
The game's major turning point came soon after when referee Adam Kersey was referred by VAR to a Lowry tackle on Chris Ikonomidis which had elicited little outcry at the time. Lowry won the ball, slid past a teammate and connected with the Perth player's shin.
Kersey deemed the tackle a red card offence. The Phoenix camp were understandably aghast. It looked worthy of a yellow card at worst from the only replay angle shown.
It's not often a player is applauded down the tunnel by his own team's fans, having been sent off after just four minutes on the pitch.
Rudan went to the bench again, this time sending on Reuben Way to try and contain Castro, a big ask for somebody making his A-League debut.
Perth could smell blood and grew increasingly dominant the longer the match went on.
The equaliser arrived in the 82nd minute from — you guessed it — Castro, who scored from close range off a ball cut back from the byline by Ikonomidis. The shot was one of only two on target for the Glory all night.
The Phoenix were camped in the last third for most of the remaining minutes but defended desperately, led by the excellent Andrew Durante, and at least emerged with a point to show for their efforts. After such an epic performance, they must have felt short-changed.
It seemed early on that this would maybe not be Wellington's night. Nathan Burns squandered a great early chance, skewing his shot well wide with only keeper Liam Reddy to beat, after Louis Fenton did well to win the ball near the Perth penalty area.
In the 15th minute, Kurto was stretchered off after coming off his line to claim the ball and colliding with Andy Keogh's hip. The Pole has been one of the few standouts for the Phoenix this season and was replaced by inexperienced keeper Oli Sail. But Sail had little to do until late in the game.
The Phoenix overcame that early adversity and took control. Reddy was twice forced into sharp saves, first from a long-range Mandi strike, then a shot from inside the area after Burns was played in by the recalled Sarpreet Singh.
Kersey ignored a potential VAR referral for a foul in the area on Louis Fenton but that didn't seem to matter when the Phoenix took the lead soon after in the 44th minute.
After good lead-up work by Burns, his pass was fortuitously deflected to Krishna, who struck a left-foot shot into the bottom corner. Perth were trailing for the first time this season.
The goal — Krishna's 34th in 101 games for the Phoenix — meant he is now the club's record scorer, moving past Paul Ifill, who was watching from the Westpac Stadium stands.
An off-target Singh shot just before the break ended easily the best half of football this season for Wellington, who had 63 per cent of possession at that point.
The Phoenix were unable to maintain such high standards through the second half — partly due to a controversial call beyond their control — but should take heart that they can outplay the A-League's best on their day, something they had yet to show this season.
The challenge for Rudan and his players is to ensure this match is a turning point and not a one-off.