A dramatic last gasp strike from super-sub Ranko Despotovic has earned Sydney FC a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Wellington Phoenix at Allianz Stadium tonight, to send the Sky Blues clear in third on the Hyundai A-League ladder.
Sydney looked on course for a 1-0 win after a goal of the season contender from Richard Garcia in the first half. But a red card to defender Pedj Bojic put the home side on the back foot and Phoenix forward Kenny Cunningham’s 90th minute equaliser looked to have earned the Kiwi’s a point.
However the debutant Despotovic, who arrived in the country less than a week ago, stepped up in the final minute of added on time to snatch victory for the Sky Blues.
Sydney FC had named an unchanged starting line-up from the one that took three points against the Melbourne Heart last week, with the Serbian Despotovic named on the bench alongside the returning Ivan Necevski. Phoenix had their full contingent of New Zealand players back after their World Cup qualifying disappointment in midweek.
Frank Farina’s men were under pressure early as the Phoenix peppered the Sky Blues box with crosses from the right channel. Seb Ryall and Vedran Janjetovic were forced to clear the ball on more than one occasion while Pedj Bojic picked up an early yellow card for what the referee deemed a dangerous sliding tackle.
The Sky Blues began to have the lion’s share of possession and in the 14th minute Alessandro Del Piero’s shot on the turn sailed over the crossbar.
Sydney had a foothold on the game and Del Piero sent a curling free kick inches over the bar, before Joel Chianese forced Phoenix keeper Glen Moss into a diving save with a low whipped cross.
The Phoenix should have been in front in the 33rd minute after Jeremy Brockie broke behind the Sky Blues line however his chance went begging as a bobble forced him to sky the effort over the bar.
Sydney FC were in front in the 34th minute as they took the lead through Richard Garcia.
Emerton picked up the ball just beyond the centre circle and fired a cross field pass to Garcia on the left. The front man took a touch and unleashed a rasping drive from the edge of the area that cannoned in off the underside of the crossbar.
Janjetovic was alert in the 38th minute as he dived to his left to parry a Carlos Hernandez drive wide of his near post. At the other end Ali Abbas drove a daisy cutter just wide as the frantic pace failed to abate.
The Sky Blues closed out the first half with another chance. Alessandro Del Piero took Ali Abbas’ cross on his chest in the box but his volley was saved by Moss and Sydney went in at the break one goal to the good.
Sydney FC began the second half front foot.
Pedj Bojic was the first to test the Phoenix keeper as his dipping shot from distance was tipped over the bar and the keeper Moss also dived low to his right to hold onto a Nick Carle drive.
The Sky Blues fans were introduced to their new acquisition in the 67th minute as the Serbian international Despotovic came on for Chris Naumoff.
Bojic received his marching orders in the 73rd minute for a second bookable offence after he dragged down Cunningham and the Phoenix were almost level from the next play as Ben Sigmund saw his diving header from six yards loop over the bar.
The Phoenix pushed numbers forward in a bid to take advantage of Sydney FC’s lack of numbers, while defender Matt Jurman was introduced to shore up the home side’s defensive line.
Hearts were in mouths in the 83rd minute as Carlos Hernandez was allowed time and space on the ball in the Sky Blues box. however Seb Ryall’s desperate lunge was enough to divert the Costa Rican’s goal bound shot wide of the post.
Vedran Janjetovic saved Sydney FC in the 88th minute making a point blank block at his near post from Cunningham’s volley before the same striker saw a goal ruled out for offside.
The Phoenix drew level striking in the 90th minute after Sydney FC conceded a late corner. Carlos Hernandez’ whipped in the ball towards the six yard line where Cunningham powered a header home.
The Sky Blues had the last laugh however, striking at the death to earn the three points.
Sydney broke forward after Terry McFlynn picked the ball up on the centre circle. He fed Seb Ryall who shrugged off his marker and squared the ball to Despotovic who slotted into the far corner to send the stadium into raptures.
The win makes it three from three for the Sky Blues who face the Newcastle Jets at Allianz Stadium next Saturday night looking for a fourth in a row (kick off 7.45pm).
Sydney FC 2 (Garcia 34’, Despotovic 90’+4’) Wellington Phoenix 1 (Cunningham 90’)
Ground: Allianz Stadium
Referee: Jarred Gillet
Sydney FC: 20. V.Janjetovic, 2. S.Ryall, 6. N.Petkovic, 7. B.Emerton, 8. P.Bojic 10. A. Del Piero (80’ T.McFlynn), 11. R.Garcia, 16. J.Chianese (76’ M.Jurman), 19. N.Carle, 22. A.Abbas, 27. C.Naumoff (67’ R.Despotovic).
Unused Subs: 1. I.Necevski, 21. Y.Yau
Yellow Card: 6’ P.Bojic, 50’ N.Carle.
Red Car: 73’ P.Bojic.
Wellington Phoenix FC: 1. G.Moss, 2. E.Muscat, 3. R.Caira (72’ A.Riera), 10. S.Huysegems (68’ K.Cunningham), 11. J.Brockie, 15. J.Hicks (58’ P.Ifill), 16.L.Fenton, 17. Vince Lia, 18. B.Sigmund, 21. C.Hernandez, 22. A.Durante. P.Retre.
Unused Subs: 20. L.Italiano, 7. L.Bertos, 9. K.Cunningham.
Yellow Card: 27’ E.Muscat