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Phoenix stunned by stoppage-time winner

The Central Coast Mariners have moved level on points with Wellington Phoenix at the top of the A-League ladder with three rounds to play.

The Mariners have beaten the Phoenix 2-1 at Industree Group Stadium in Gosford thanks to a 91st minute winner from Brazilian fullback Mikael Doka.

Colombian forward Angel Torres had headed Central Coast in front an hour into the match before All Whites midfielder Ben Old drew Wellington level with 12 minutes remaining in normal time.

Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano is disappointed with the nature of Doka’s match-winner.

“I don’t think we’ve conceded a goal like that all year, especially top of the box,” Italiano said. “We usually defend that very, very well so I was really disappointed with that."

Both sides are now on 46 points, but the Mariners have the edge in the premiership race as they have won one more match than the Nix.

However, Central Coast also have to juggle their AFC Cup commitments, including a trip to Kyrgyzstan, during the remaining three rounds of the A-League regular season.

“For us our focus will be [Melbourne] Victory. We expect a big turnout from the fans [on Friday night].

“For us the focus will be just that game and then we’ll see what happens after the three games.

“The Mariners still have to win those three games. They have to travel halfway across the world, so they have to deal with those variables and we still have to win our games. There’s still a lot to play for this season."

Wellington Phoenix A-League football
Wellington Phoenix players celebrate Ben Old's equalising goal. PHOTO: A-LEAGUE

Giancarlo Italiano made three changes to the XI which started the 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar on Easter Sunday with academy graduates Ben Old, Lukas Kelly-Heald and Matt Sheridan coming into the side for suspended captain Alex Rufer and Mo Al-Taay and David Ball, who were named amongst the substitutes. It was Sheridan’s first start after three previous appearances off the bench.

Fit-again fullback Tim Payne and 16-year-old Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues were also included amongst the substitutes, while Scott Wootton captained the Phoenix in Rufer’s absence.

Central Coast settled the quicker of the two sides and came close to taking the lead inside five minutes when the Nix coughed up possession inside their own half.

Thankfully for Wellington Alex Paulsen and Finn Surman combined to snuff out Josh Nisbet’s strike.

The Phoenix were typically threatening on the counter. Bozhidar Kraev registered the visitors’ first shot on target in the 13th minute after beating Daniel Hall one-on-one, but he couldn’t pick out a teammate with his pass-come-shot.

Old had the Nix’s next chance to shoot seven minutes later when he found some space on the edge of the Mariners’ box, but defender Brian Kaltak threw himself at the shot to ensure his ‘keeper wasn’t tested.

Wellington gave away a few free-kicks on the edge of their box and they almost proved costly when Mikael Doka rattled Paulsen’s left-hand post in the 25th minute.

Otherwise the Phoenix were able to get their bodies in front of most of Central Coast’s shots, with Wootton producing the most notable block to deny Angel Torres in the 35th minute.

Kosta Barbarouses had an effort partially blocked on the stroke of halftime as the Nix tried to snatch the lead and the ball bounced safely into Danny Vukovic’s arms.

Barbarouses had the first opportunity of the second half, flashing a shot narrowly wide of Vukovic’s right-hand post after finding some space at the top of the Mariners’ box.

Old had a chance to test Central Coast’s ‘keeper 12 minutes later after a good passage of play from Wellington but he skied his shot over the bar from a tight angle.

Giancarlo Italiano made his first substitutions soon after bringing on Tim Payne and Mo Al-Taay in place of Matt Sheridan and Youstin Salas.

A minute later the Phoenix found themselves a goal down when Angel Torres nodded home a Storm Roux cutback to score his 13th goal of the season.

Josh Nisbet came close to doubling the Mariners’ lead in the 66th minute when he curled a left-footed shot narrowly wide of Alex Paulsen’s right-hand post.

The Nix came closer to equalising eight minutes later when Torres found the underside of his own crossbar as he attempted to clear a header from Barbarouses.

Wellington did equalise in the 78th minute, with Ben Old smashing home a pinpoint right-wing cross from Oskar van Hattum, who had come off the bench half a dozen minutes earlier.

Both sides did not appear satisfied to settle for a draw and pursued a match-winner.

It ultimately came in the first minute of time added on when Central Coast fullback Mikael Doka cut in from the right-wing and curled a left-footed shot from outside the box around Paulsen and into the bottom corner.

The Phoenix have little time to dwell on their fourth defeat of the season as return to action against the Melbourne Victory at Wellington's Sky Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 7pm).

Central Coast Mariners 2 (Angel Torres 61', Mikael Doka 90+1') Wellington Phoenix 1 (Ben Old 78'). HT: 0-0


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