A controversial late penalty saw Wellington Phoenix snatch a valuable away point with a 2-2 draw against A-League soccer defending champions Newcastle in New Zealand on Monday.

The Phoenix looked destined for their fourth defeat of the season before busy Chinese import Leilei Gao fell dramatically after a Matt Thompson challenge and referee Craig Zetter pointed to the spot.

As a crowd of 8492 screamed in protest, Shane Smeltz calmly finished the 90th-minute spot kick — his second of the match — as a violent rainstorm swept the ground.

It elevated Smeltz level with Melbourne’s Danny Allsopp as the league’s leading scorer, with six goals.

Smeltz’s 52nd-minute penalty had the Phoenix sniffing back-to-back wins for the first time in their short history, but two Jets goals to Tarek Elrich and substitute Kaz Patafta in the space of nine minutes looked likely to settle the issue.

The result left the Phoenix second from bottom, but just one point behind the jittery Jets, who also remained anchored on a solitary win from seven matches.

Captain and former Jet Andrew Durante returned for a largely unchanged Phoenix, who’d won just three of their 13 A-League away matches but fancied their chances against a weakened Jets.

The hosts were without their talisman Joel Griffiths and his brother Adam (both hamstring), along with striker Jason Hoffman (knee) and two other squad members on youth international duty.

Newcastle’s marquee signing, Ecuadorian international Edmundo Zura, returned from injury but was kept in check by the visitors in an uninspiring first half.

Wellington could have hit the front with two royal chances in the space of three minutes, the first when Tim Brown’s powerful shot was well saved by goalkeeper Ante Covic.

Smeltz went even closer in the 20th minute when he dispossessed Jobe Wheelhouse and strolled into the area, cut back and beat Covic only for his shot to hit the left post.

The Phoenix defence was largely solid in the first half, aside from two blemishes in the first and 40th minutes tidied by goalkeeper Mark Paston.

Veteran striker Vaughan Coveny, dropped for the Perth match a fortnight ago, helped put the Phoenix in front against his former club when he went one-on-one with Daniel Piorkowski, who challenged clumsily in the area.

Smeltz sent Covic the wrong way with the resulting penalty.

But the lead was shortlived when the ball fell to Elrich in space and he found Paston off his line with a 20m strike in the 59th minute.

The momentum shifted Newcastle’s way as the crowd lifted them, and they hit the front in the 68th minute when Matt Thompson lobbed a ball over Karl Dodd, Zuna nodded past Paston and Patafta nudged home.

There was a hint of a Zuna offside on the replay but the flag stayed down and the Jets looked set for victory as they finished strongly.