Sergio Cirio went from villain to hero in a matter of minutes to help Adelaide United pinch a last-ditch 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix at Coopers Stadium on Saturday.
Cirio made a meal of a perfect opportunity to score just before the end of regulation before making amends in the 94th minute to break Wellington hearts.
In wet, woolly conditions, the Phoenix looked switched on early and were rightly rewarded when Dutchman Roly Bonevacia scored his first A-League goal, before United equalised through Nigel Boogaard.
Scrapping and defending stoutly in the second half, the visitors looked like clinging desperately to a hard-earned draw before being denied at the death.
WHAT THEY SAID
“I think it's very important, the goal, but I think we deserved to win this game because from the first minute we went to attack, we want to win.
“We play many games the last two weeks and I think in the end the team was a little bit tired but but with heart we get the game.”
“Disappointed. I don't know if that was a foul at the end or not. We conceded late again here.
“There's always drama when we come here. I thought we were good enough for a draw tonight.”
0-1 (Bonevacia 15')
Pablo Sanchez looked a certainty to open the scoring only to be denied by a stunning reflex save from Glen Moss.
A lightning counterattack followed with Fijian flyer Roy Krishna flying along the flank and laying off to Bonevacia, who fired a bullet that Eugene Galekovic had no hope of stopping. Sheer quality from the visitors.
1-1 (Boogaard 36')
After a dominant 10 or so minutes from United, Craig Goodwin curled a wonderful corner which Boogaard leaned into perfectly and nodded home the equaliser, the central defender's first goal in Adelaide colours.
2-1 Cirio (90'+4)
After the Reds were the beneficiaries of a fortunate late free kick taken by Goodwin, Cirio dragged Adelaide out of jail by sticking the boot up and poking home the deflection from close range.
With Adelaide taking control and keen to press home their advantage in the 89th, Sergio Cirio should have wrapped it up 2-1 but somehow the classy finisher uncharacteristically fluffed a tap-in sitter from three yards out. The resilient Phoenix survived narrowly, but it was momentary, the Spaniard proving the hero moments later.
The first half was a cracking, attacking contest but the visual highlight was Josep Gombau sprinting onto the pitch to celebrate Cirio's sealer with exalted, unrestrained joy.
OPTA DAYA KEY STAT
Despite Moss's stoicism with the gloves, the Phoenix have kept just one clean sheet in their past 26 A-League matches on Australian soil.
Marcelo Carrusca limped off gingerly and was replaced by Bruce Kamau in the 72nd minute after receiving a knock.
Carrusca emerged from the sheds with ice on his left ankle. After losing Bruce Djite (quad) last week, Adelaide's heavy schedule has taken a toll.
Renowned for their sublime passing, the Reds occasionally fell into one-pass-too-many-mode, evident by the numbers, which showed 495-217 passes.
The usually composed Carrusca's lazy flick pass in the 53rd minute was picked off by the Phoenix and almost punished by a Nathan Burns-Krishna combo.
THE FINAL WORD
Adelaide have emerged from a busy block of three games in nine days somewhat jaded, slightly wounded but still unconquered. They will enjoy a rare, extended eight-day break before travelling to Gosford next Sunday to tackle the Central Coast Mariners, whom United ousted in Wednesday's FFA Cup semi-final.
Phoenix were super-gallant and should be buoyed. They will look to turn the tables from their opening round defeat and stun Perth Glory in their own backyard on Friday night.
Adelaide United: Galekovic (c), Boogaard, Malik, Pablo Sanchez (MacGowan 80'), Isaias, Cirio, Carrusca (Kamau 72'), Goodwin, Mabil (Ferreira 61'), Jeggo, Elrich
Wellington Phoenix: Moss, Muscat, Bonevacia (Rufer 78'), Brindell-South, Rodriguez (Cunningham 60'), Burns (Ridenton 73'), Riera, Lia, Sigmund, Krishna, Durante (c)
Scorers: Bonevacia (15'), Boogaard (36'), Cirio (90'+4)
Red cards: Nil
Yellow cards: Burns (33'), Jeggo (41'), Lia (45'+1), Bonevicia (54'), Malik (77')
Conditions: 17°C, rainy