New Zealand's Olympic Games-bound Football Ferns' bid to end another frustrating winless streak was thwarted in dramatic circumstances at Wollongong tonight when Australia salvaged a 1-1 draw with an equaliser in added time.
The Ferns were less than a minute away from recording a win on Australian soil for the first time in 21 years - and only victory against their trans-Tasman rivals since 1994 - when defender Thea Slatyer's header thudded past Jenny Bindon.
It was a cruel outcome for the Ferns goalkeeper after she had protected New Zealand's lead with two superb saves as Australia applied massive pressure over the final 20 minutes at WIN Stadium.
Slatyer's goal cancelled out Hayley Moorwood's diving header in the 50th minute and provided some solace for the Australians, who surprisingly failed to qualify for the Olympics.
Had New Zealand held on they would have ended another significant time frame without success after they beat Asian powerhouse China for the first time last week -- after 12 previous defeats -- before sweeping the two-test series.
Now they must recover from the anguish of coming so close to claiming another coveted scalp and strive to win the series at the same venue on Wednesday.
They then head to Switzerland for three friendly games to complete their preparations.
Although his players were despondent at the final whistle, Ferns coach Tony Readings was upbeat about a performance that at least ended a 22-match losing streak against the Matildas.
"We're all disappointed not to win that match after the chance we gave ourselves but it's all about the Olympics and today was another step forward," he said.
"We're asking for improved performances in every match prior to the Olympics and we got that."
Moorwood had the Ferns on the front foot when she met Anna Green's cross and deflected the ball past Matildas' captain Melissa Barbieri, a deserved lead after New Zealand were unusually competitive with the world's No.10-ranked nation.
Australia barely threatened in the lead-up before the Chelsea-based midfielder wheeled away in celebration but they finished strongly to frequently test a scrambling Ferns defence during a frenetic final 20 minutes.
Bindon had barely been tested in the Ferns' goal until she swooped to pull off a stunning one-handed save to deny Laura Alleway in the 77thminute. She also pushed substitute Hayley Raso's goal-bound shot clear but could not defend the resulting corner.
Moorwood earlier had an opportunity to make the game safe seven minutes from time but the advancing Barbieri narrowed the angle and smothered her shot - a key intervention before Australia ramped up the pressure during four minutes of added time.
The underdogs were unlucky not to be in front in the second minute when star striker Amber Hearn's curling effort from the edge of the box cannoned into a post while forward Sarah Gregorius shot just wide on the brink of halftime.
New Zealand Football names their Olympic squad on Friday so the contributions of starting midfielder Annalie Longo and Gregorius should stand them in good stead.
"You always thought something was going to happen when they were on the ball," Readings said.
New Zealand 1 (Hayley Moorhead 50)
Australia 1 (Thea Slatyer 90)
- © Fairfax NZ News
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