Dani Sanchez nodded home a late equaliser as the Phoenix drew 1-1 with the Central Coast Mariners in New Zealand
|By MARCUS ANSELM
A-League leaders Central Coast Mariners were held to a 1-1 draw by Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium as Daniel McBreen extended his excellent form.
The league's top-scorer continued his purple patch with an easy finish in the final seconds of the first half, tapping home his 10th goal from 11 matches after Mark Paston parried Tomas Rogic's shot.
The Mariners arrived in New Zealand seeking a seventh consecutive win over their hosts and they dominated possession and created more chances until a late surge by the Phoenix.
Wellington's tenacity finally paid off with seven minutes to play when substitute Ben Totori set up Dani Sanchez with a looping header that eluded Mat Ryan and level proceedings.
The Phoenix started brighter, with two fourth-minute chances falling to their leading scorer Jeremy Brockie.
The Mariners replied in kind and could have scored five minutes later through a piece of trickery from Rogic. Paston was trapped out of his area and an impudent long-distance lob veered just wide.
Rogic had the next clear chance on goal after 36 minutes. The playmaker controlled a deep cross, but Paston comfortably collected the resulting half-volley.
Central Coast finally converted in the dying moments of the half when McBreen was on hand for a simple tap-in to finish off a swift counterattack.
The goal extended his lead in the A-League scoring charts to three over Phoenix counterpart Brockie.
The early stages of the second half saw the teams exchange opportunities without mustering a firm shot on goal.
The Phoenix countered and troubled Ryan with a succession of high balls, although he retained enough composure to collect and send Rogic and Wellington-born Michael McGlinchey on runs deep into home territory.
McBreen went close again with a low drive in the 70th minute, just before Wellington Ricki Herbert made a double switch, introducing Alex Smith and Totori.
The duo's introduction injected pace into the Phoenix attack and Totori and youngster Louis Fenton quickly went through on goal but could not tally.
The introduction of striker Steyn Huysegems further augmented a late rally and Fenton had a second effort in the 78th minute.
His header was too weak to beat Ryan but Totori led the charge as Wellington continued to threaten.
And it was the Solomon Islanders' tricky wing play on the left that set up Sanchez for the equaliser.