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

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.

Coach Ricki Herbert labelled it a fair result and hailed the
new-found belief in his side after their breakthrough 2-1 win over
Sydney FC last week.

“When you’re 1-2 down away from home you’ve got to chance your
arm a little bit and I’m sure Newcastle would have thought the three
points were coming their way,” he said.

“That’s a little bit more like us. I think if that had been
three weeks ago we probably would have lost the game.

“There’s a much better spark, there’s a real belief and last
week was decent for us. We got dragged through the media a bit which
sometimes doesn’t do you any harm.

“We’ve shown the resolve and character and the quality of what’s
at the football club to turn that around.”

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 up 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

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

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