Unbeaten in eight.
Wellington Phoenix have fought back from two goals down to stun 10-man Central Coast Mariners 3-2 in a wild A-League game on Saturday night, with the dismissal of defender Kye Rowles turning the game on its head.
The Phoenix looked dead and buried at halftime but they walked off the Westpac Stadium after 90 minutes having set a new club record by going eight matches without a defeat, achieving that unbeaten record in captain Andrew Durante’s 300th A-League appearance and in front of a season-high 10,186 spectators.
Striker Roy Krishna was the key figure once again, scoring twice from the penalty spot to spark the Phoenix’s second half revival before assisting on David Williams’ 65th minute match-winner.
“We didn’t start well,” Phoenix coach Mark Rudan said at fulltime. “We didn’t start well at all and that was a constant theme over the past couple of days, we’ve spoken about how well they’ve started in the past five or six games, when they’ve taken it to teams who have got an early lead or they’ve really put pressure on teams, so we needed to match up in that regard, especially in terms of intensity.”
Despite coming into Saturday’s match on the back of nine consecutive defeats, the Mariners shot out of the blocks with an eighth minute penalty to captain Matt Simon and a 21st minute goal to Andrew Hoole rewarding the visitors for their dominant opening 45 minute spell.
Simon won the penalty when he was brought down by Steven Taylor with his back to the goal at a corner, while Hoole provided the finishing touch after Jacob Melling pick-pocketed Phoenix midfielder Mitch Nichols on halfway.
Hoole’s shot even managed to beat Tom Doyle, who scrambled back to the line but awkwardly mistimed his attempted clearance.
”I was extremely disappointed, especially giving away another goal from set-piece. We pride ourselves on defence and we gave away two against the Wanderers, which was the first time we’ve conceded from a set-piece or a corner and we did it again,” Rudan said.
“I expected more from Steven and that’s the first thing I said to him after the game; ‘someone of your experience, you need to pick yourself up ASAP.’ It’s OK when things are going well but that was the moment when I was looking at him closely and I expect more from him.”
But, just like against Sydney FC in their most recent game, the winless Mariners were unable to keep their composure and crumbled under the immense second half pressure as Rudan tweaked his formation and unleashed new striker Cillian Sheridan to good effect.
The capitulation started when Rowles shoved Krishna in the back just two minutes into the second half. The defender was shown a straight red card by referee Alex King and awarded a penalty to the Phoenix.
An out-stretched Ben Kennedy managed to get a touch on the ball but the Mariners goalkeeper was ultimately unable to keep out Krishna’s penalty attempt.
Melling was the next offender, clipping Krishna as he charged into the box 10 minutes later. Again, Krishna’s penalty was successful.
The Fijian international, who is off contract at the end of the season, now has nine goals in 13 games and is on track to beat his A-League record of 12 goals across a single season.
He also played a key role in the game-winning goal, dribbling at speed towards the retreating Mariners defence before freeing up his strike partner Williams, who banged in his third of the season.
Jordan Murray came close to scoring a late equaliser for the Mariners, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
“It’s gut-wrenching. We have a very upset dressing room,” Mariners coach Mike Mulvey said. “But if you pare back the fact it was another loss, you look at the performance and we were great in the first half. Honestly, they didn’t get a kick. We took ’em apart, just as we did Sydney last week.
“People will say ‘put him in a crazy house’ because we lost 5-2 last week and 3-2 tonight but I genuinely believe that. Games change on moments and we have banged on all week about the forward runs of Krishna, if we’re not able to put pressure on the ball then we need to be dropping, and we weren’t quite able to get that right.”
Rudan made one change to his starting XI, with Nichols replacing the suspended Alex Rufer. Nichols failed to make the most of a rare start though and he was dragged at halftime.