Wellington Phoenix draw 1-1 with Central Coast
Try as they may, the Phoenix just can't break those pesky Mariners.
Ernie Merrick's men finished over the top of the A-League's defending champions tonight at Westpac Stadium but they couldn't land the killer blow in the 1-1 draw in front of 7005.
It ended a three-game winning streak for the Phoenix, one shy of the record set in January-February 2012.
It also extended the Phoenix's winless streak against the Mariners to 10 games, a hoodoo that includes eight losses.
There was late penalty drama, with Daniel McBreen blasting his 68th minute spot-kick way over the bar, before Tyler Boyd's claims were waved away in the 82nd.
Both sides had chances to win it as the action heated up and tempers frayed in the second half.
In normal circumstances the ninth-placed Phoenix would be happy enough to take a point off one of the league's perennial powerhouses.
But they will feel this is an opportunity missed as they remain stuck five points off the playoff pace, and with tough games against Melbourne Victory (home) and Brisbane Roar (away) to follow.
The Mariners shaded the first half but it ended 1-1 thanks to Kenny Cunningham's superb left-foot strike on the stroke of halftime.
The Costa Rican international had been the most dangerous Phoenix player and he got reward in the 45th minute, shaking All White Storm Roux and unleashing a ripping shot across Liam Reddy and into the bottom-right corner.
Cunningham has been a mixed bag in his debut A-League season.
Asked to play an unfamiliar left midfield role, he has been solid rather than spectacular but he was able to get more involved on attack against the Mariners and thoroughly deserved his second Phoenix goal.
Up to that point the Mariners had been good value for their lead.
Coach Phil Moss has been shorn of his two most creative players, Michael McGlinchey and Marcos Flores, but the Gosford-based club is nothing if not resilient.
Moss opted to start the match with four natural strikers; Nick Fitzgerald and Mitchell Duke operating as wide midfielders in support of targetmen Matt Simon and McBreen.
Fitzgerald buzzed about and proved a real handful for makeshift right back Michael Boxall, providing the assist for Simon's goal in the 16th minute.
After some nice build-up involving Duke, Fitzgerald slid a ball in between Ben Sigmund and Manny Muscat for Simon to drill past a despairing Glen Moss into the top-right corner.
It had been 11 days since the wonderful win over the Wanderers and the Phoenix were struggling to rediscover their rhythm with the timing and placement of passes a little off.
But after starting the game a touch flat, Phoenix emerged from halftime with more intent and a spring in their step thanks to Cunningham's goal.
Boyd came on for an ineffectual Jeremy Brockie, whose painful goal drought continues, and the Phoenix started to take over the game.
But it was McBreen who had the prime chance for a go-ahead goal after Moss brought down Trent Sainsbury in the box.
However McBreen, the reigning golden boot who like Brockie can't find the back of the net this season, fired well over in a shocking miss.
The draw bursts the Phoenix's bubble somewhat but there were still plenty of positives.
The terrier-like Albert Riera's anticipation was superb and in his first season of professional football you could argue the former paramedic from Spain is already the Phoenix's most important player.
And new signing Roy Krishna became the first Fijian to play in the league when he entered the fray as a late substitute.
AT A GLANCE
Phoenix 1 (Kenny Cunningham) Mariners 1 (Matt Simon)
HT: 1-1. Crowd: 7005