Wellington Phoenix 3
Western United 2
The Wellington Phoenix's two teenage academy products have combined to keep their side's A-League playoff hopes alive, clinching a last-gasp 3-2 win over Western United at WIN Stadium in Wollongong.
With the scores locked at 2-2 in the 90th minute, Sam Sutton – starting for the first time this season – found fellow 19-year-old Ben Waine with a precise cross, with Waine gleefully heading home the winner in a five-goal thriller.
The win lifts the Phoenix to ninth on the ladder, seven points outside the playoff spots with ten games to play.
Having fallen 1-0 behind and then gone 2-1 ahead, it appeared the Phoenix would have to settle for a point before Waine – recalled to the starting side for the injured Tomer Hemed – rose to power home Sutton's cross. There was a nervous moment as the goal was checked by VAR before eventually being awarded.
It was the visitors who opened the scoring just after the half-hour when Tim Payne barged into the back of Lachie Wales to concede a penalty. The competition's all-time leading marksman Besart Berisha neatly dispatched the spot-kick to notch his 15th goal in all matches against the Phoenix and 142nd overall. Wales had earlier been involved in a sickening head-clash with Phoenix defender Joshua Laws following which he appeared to be knocked out cold. He was initially deemed fit to continue, but departed shortly after earning his side's spot-kick.
Wellington were awarded their own penalty just before halftime when the ball struck the hand of former Phoenix skipper and the club's record appearance-maker Andrew Durante, with Ulises Davila coolly converting his seventh goal of the season to square the ledger.
Wellington went ahead eight minutes into the second half when after a period of sustained pressure, Sutton – starting for the first time this season – fed Davila on the edge of the area and his left-footed shot was diverted past Western United goalkeeper Ryan Scott by Jaushua Sotirio.
But the lead was to last just three minutes with Western United taking advantage of what has become an Achilles heel for Wellington; set piece defending. A right-wing corner wasn't dealt with, Durante lashed a loose ball against the crossbar and Iker Guarrotxena stooped to head home from close range.
In the game's final quarter, Wellington stormed forward looking for a winning goal as Davila in particular threatened Scott's goal time and again. Tim Payne saw a header cleared off the line, Waine dragged a shot wide of the target from a handy position and Ball scooped a shot over under pressure from Durante. But it was Waine who ultimately supplied the game's crucial moment.
The Phoenix visit Perth Glory next Sunday evening.
Wellington Phoenix 3 (Davila pen 45+1', Sotirio 53', Waine 90')
Western United 2 (Berisha pen 32', Guarrotxena 56')