Inspirational leader Andrew Durante's 150th game for the Wellington Phoenix ended in a controversy-laced anti-climax against the Melbourne Heart last night, as their A-League finals series prospects were compromised by a defiant 2-2 cliffhanger at AAMI Park.
Needing to avenge the 5-0 drubbing inflicted by the Heart in Wellington a month ago to sit a point outside the top six with four regular season matches to play, the Phoenix had to settle for a point - their second consecutive stalemate against lower-ranked opposition following a 1-1 draw Perth last weekend.
However, there were mitigating circumstances for the Phoenix, who were reduced to 10-men in the 33rd minute when Ben Sigmund collected a second yellow card before conceding a debatable penalty with 30 minutes to play.
Wellington remain in a holding pattern in eighth, three points behind sixth-placed Adelaide, and must avoid another slip up away at Newcastle on Saturday.
Less than 24 hours after the Melbourne Storm celebrated milestone matches for Cameron Smith and Billy Slater with a last-minute NRL win over Penrith, Durante trudged off the same venue downcast after the Phoenix were unable to overcome adversity and some puzzling decisions by referee Ben Williams.
Roy Krishna's opening goal for the club - a cool finish under Andrew Redmayne after he wrong-footed two defenders after a collecting a Michael Boxall pass in the sixth minute - gave the Phoenix early heart but the opening half steadily deteriorated.
The Phoenix felt they should have had a penalty - and be facing 10 men - when Patrick Kisnorbo blocked a goal bound strike by Tyler Boyd in the 18th minute - an illegality missed by the Australian match official.
Melbourne drew level in the 28th minute when Mate Dugandzic teed up a deflected corner past a helpless Glenn Moss, though Jonatan Germano also claimed he deflected the ball into the net.
Williams' officiating also angered Heart coach John Van't Schip on the half hour when Sigmund only receive a yellow card for contact on David Williams after he chested down a precise Harry Kewell long ball on the edge of the area.
However, the All Whites defender's respite was only temporary - he departed without complaint when Williams produced a second yellow after Sigmund dragged down the wily veteran three minutes after his first indiscretion.
Manny Muscat reverted to right back and Boxall assumed Sigmund's role in the centre of the back four alongside Durante.
Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick introduced Matthew Ridenton for Stein Huysegems in midfield at halftime, the visitors continued to press and that endeavour was rewarded when Boyd capitalised on excellent work down the right flank by Krishna.
The Fijian delivered a teasing cross under pressure in the 57th minute and Boyd pounced after defender Robbie Wielaert lost his footing.
Boyd, who was poised to be subbed for Jeremy Brockie before his goal, departed soon after and the Phoenix's joy was also short lived when the canny Kewell earned a dubious spot kick when he tumbled after minimal contact by Muscat in the 61st minute.
David Williams, who scored a hattrick against the Phoenix in their previous contest, converted from the spot - an outcome that forced Merrick to adopt a more conservative approach in the quest to secure at least a point.
The Heart had more opportunities to break the deadlock - Williams netted after play had stopped for a foul and substitute Stefan Mauk shot wide under pressure with four minutes left in regulation.
Williams was also through in added time but Moss made a brave smother to save the day for Durante - who's frustrations were finally evident when he received a yellow for disputing the awarding of a corner to Heart in the 85th minute.
Melbourne Heart 2 (Jonatan Germano 29, David Williams pen 62)
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Roy Krishna 6, Tyler Boyd 57)
- Fairfax Media
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