Newcastle Jets 1
Wellington Phoenix 1
The mark of a good football team is often the depth of its squad, the ability to cover absences and still get results. Wellington Phoenix reserve goalkeeper Oli Sail proved the old adage correct on Thursday night, producing a series of outstanding saves to help his side to an important 1-1 draw away at the Newcastle Jets.
It could have been even better for Wellington with Roy Krishna missing a late penalty which would have given the Phoenix all three points. Nonetheless, the result crucially keeps the buffer between sixth-placed Wellington and the seventh-placed Jets at eight points with nine games remaining and will give the Phoenix belief they can go on to play A-League finals football for the first time in four seasons.
Sail was only pressed into action when first choice Filip Kurto was forced out with a pre-game tummy bug and he came up big in just his second start of the season. In the second half in particular, the young Kiwi was superb, denying the Jets again and again.
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In a vital match for both sides, Wellington started best and had two early chances to open the scoring. On his return to the side from expectant father duty, Spanish midfielder Mandi hit the post in the seventh minute with Louis Fenton unable to divert the fast-arriving rebound into an empty net. Shortly afterwards, Liberato Cacace forced a fine save from former Phoenix custodian Glen Moss who pushed his blistering right-footed effort wide of the upright.
Knowing defeat would likely spell the end of their top six chances, the home side played their part in a willing battle which saw four yellow cards dished out in the first 22 minutes, three of them to Newcastle.
David Williams saw his header pushed onto the post by Moss after 30 minutes before the first goal arrived, very much against the run of play. The Jets' Venezuelan playmaker Ronny Vargas showed sumptuous skill to collect the ball in the penalty area, evade three would-be defenders with quick feet and an exquisite drag-back before planting the ball into the roof of Sail's net.
While they struggled to assert the same level of dominance immediately after the break, Wellington squared the ledger through a precise side-footed finish from Williams, his fourth goal in six outings and the sixth of an increasingly productive season.
Shortly afterwards, the Jets were denied by two wonderful saves from Sail, bookending a Roy O'Donovan strike against the post. Sail then denied Jason Hoffman from close range as the Jets pushed desperately for a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. As the game opened up, Alex Rufer – who enjoyed another stand-out evening – and Krishna spurned chances to win the game for the Phoenix before Sail again repelled O'Donovan in added time.
Wellington now have an eight-day break before they welcome glamour side Melbourne Victory to Eden Park next Friday evening.
Newcastle Jets 1 (Vargas)
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Williams)