Wellington Phoenix 2
Perth Glory 2
When dreams die, they die hard for the Wellington Phoenix.
Their playoff aspirations took a significant hit on Sunday, as a resolute Perth Glory held them to a 2-2 draw in a thrilling game at Eden Park.
They still have a chance of making the finals, but that is no longer in their hands.
It could have all been so different, especially as Ulises Davila missed a late penalty, which has been a rare sight with the Mexican during his A-League career.
The Phoenix had several other late chances – and a couple of penalty appeals in a frenetic finale.
They dominated the match but their inability to build on their halftime lead was ultimately costly, and they will rue the way they conceded both Perth goals, particularly the first one.
The match was an absolute humdinger, with the atmosphere of a cup final.
The result extends Wellington's unbeaten sequence to a club record 10 matches, surpassing the nine-match streak amassed last season.
There was early drama, with the Phoenix awarded a second-minute penalty, before it was scratched after a lengthy VAR review. Replays suggested that Tim Payne had been fractionally clipped as he pursued a free kick, but referee Alex King decided there was enough doubt.
A delightful Diego Castro chip tested Oli Sail, while David Ball dragged his shot wide of the far post after being released by Clayton Lewis.
Perth had a good near-post chance after a clever turn by Andy Keogh, before Tomer Hemed brought the crowd to life with a brilliant strike in the 24th minute.
A clever Louis Fenton cutback found the Israeli near the penalty spot and Hemed made no mistake, with a thunderous shot that left Liam Reddy looking like Neo from The Matrix, as the ball fizzed past his fingertips.
It was wonderful technique from Hemed, who swivelled his body superbly.
There were further first half chances to Hemed, Reno Piscopo and Ben Waine, as the Phoenix engineered some neat triangles, at high pace, around the Glory penalty area.
The visitors pushed forward more in the second half – as expected – though Payne and Steven Taylor dealt with most incursions.
The Phoenix looked more dangerous; after some delightful interplay in the final third Piscopo was blocked at the far post, before Hemed sent a header fractionally wide of the near post.
But they couldn't build on their lead, and the Perth equaliser came as the ultimate sucker punch. The Phoenix seemed to lose concentration momentarily, as they gave up possession cheaply near halfway, then couldn't recover. Castro drove at the Phoenix defence, before releasing Bruno Fornaroli, for the Uruguayan to slide neatly past Sail.
If that was a shock, what came next stunned the crowd, as midfielder Callum Timmins produced a goal of the season contender, beating Sail from 25 metres with a missile of a strike.
But the Phoenix responded, with Jaushua Sotirio finding a wonderful curling finish past the outstretched Reddy in the 80th minute, after being set up by Davila.
There was more drama, with Cameron Devlin bundled over in the area – and this time the decision stood. Davila stepped up, which was a big call given Hemed's recent scoring run, and Reddy produced a wonderful save to palm away the Mexican's attempt.
Davila then went close with a free kick, before the Glory endured a succession of corners, and survived three handball appeals, at least one of which was worth the kind of close examination that the Payne decision merited, but it wasn't to be.
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Tomer Hemed 24', Jaushua Sotirio 80')
Perth Glory 2 (Bruno Fornaroli 61', Callum Timmins 74')