A-League: Wellington Phoenix rescue draw with dramatic late strike against Central Coast Mariners

Wellington Phoenix have struck late to salvage a dramatic 1-1 draw Central Coast Mariners in Sydney on Friday.

Trailing 1-0 heading in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Oskar Zawada snuck a clever backheel in a goal-mouth scramble into the side netting to ensure his side left with a valuable competition point.

In a fiery encounter, the hosts finished with just nine men on the field and without coach Nick Montgomery, who was banished from the sidelines for dissent after his team were shown a second red card. 

The result means the Phoenix remain fifth on the A-League ladder but are now level on points with fourth-placed Western Sydney Wanderers, and are still just one win behind the Mariners.

The second-placed Mariners took an early lead in the 12th minute, with ex-Phoenix defender James McGarry scoring the second goal of the season against his former club with a well-converted volley.

Mariners defenders watch as Oscar Zawada's late goal trickles in.
Mariners defenders watch as Oscar Zawada's late goal trickles in. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Phoenix cause was helped by the reduction of the hosts to 10 men, after Brian Kaltak was shown a red card in the 59th minute for a tackle which appeared to collect the ball before it made contact with David Ball.

The visitors should have equalised in the 39th minute, when Zawada laid on a pass for Yan Sasse, only to be denied by a superb stretching stop on the goal-line by Storm Roux. 

Despite being a man down, the Mariners created the most chances down the stretch, until Zawada struck his 10th goal in 18 games to steal a draw.

In the final minute of stoppage time, Brazilian substitute Moresche reacted angrily to a challenge from Scott Wootton, poking the Phoenix defender in his face. That prompted referee Jack Morgan reach for the red card again, inspiring an outburst from coach Montgomery, who then became Morgan's third victim of the night. 

Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay was pleased his team were able to leave with a share of the spoils, despite their relatively lacklustre display.

"We weren't at our best and, for me, when you're not at your best,  it's very important you try to stay in the game," Talay said after the game.

"We played a good opposition this evening. We started the game off well. The first time they came at us they scored and then Central Coast had the better of the game.

"I think we dropped our heads a little bit. But the boys still worked hard to get themselves back into the game.

"The boys didn't stop, that's the main thing. The attitude was good and to get a point when you’re not playing well is very important."

The Phoenix will now head back to the capital for their first home game in six weeks, where they'll face Newcastle Jets next Saturday.

Wellington Phoenix 1 ( Zawada 94th min) Central Coast Mariners 1 (McGarry 12th min)