The Wellington Phoenix have come back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with reigning A-League champions Melbourne Victory in their final round match at Sky Stadium in Wellington.
Midfielder Grace Wisnewski equalised with almost the last kick of the game after substitute Ava Pritchard had pulled a goal back for Wellington in the 75th minute.
But the point was not enough for the Nix to avoid the wooden spoon for the second straight season.
Lawrence: ‘Huge character in this team’
“The goal was to not come bottom of the league and we haven’t achieved that goal this season,” Phoenix head coach Natalie Lawrence said post-game. “But we also look at the progression that this team has made, not only from last year but throughout the season.
“That kind of performance…so many times this season we lose that 2-1. We lose that by one goal even though we work, we never give up and we keep going to the end. And today we didn’t.
“Today we found that goal even though we knew a draw still wasn’t enough. It still wasn’t going to get us off the bottom of the table, but we didn’t want to lose two goals to one.”
Lawrence believes the performance shows there’s “huge character in this team”.
“If this team gets invested in, is given time and the resource it requires and deserves we could be challenging.
“I look at how we finished that game and that second-half, on the back of three games in eight days, you’ve got to be a little bit excited by what this team could produce if we keep the players we need to keep.”
Four changes to the starting line-up
Natalie Lawrence made four changes to the XI which started the 3-1 win over Adelaide United, with goalkeeper Brianna Edwards, defender Marisa van der Meer and forwards Paige Satchell and Emma Rolston returning to the side after being rested on Tuesday night.
The Victory showed their attacking intent from the opening whistle, as they looked to cement a finals berth, and Alana Murphy put them in front in the fourth minute, scoring a stunning free-kick from the top of the box.
Melina Ayres came within inches of making it two-nil just a couple of minutes later when her speculative first-time shot from distance rattled the Wellington crossbar.
The Nix had a few good moments in the visitors’ half, primarily through Satchell on the break, but the Victory were the more threatening of the two sides going forward for much of the first 45.
Ayres doubled their lead in the 26th minute with another quality strike. She turned her defender in the box and then blasted a shot past Brianna Edwards in the Phoenix’s goal.
Wellington had a great opportunity to pull a goal back when they caught Victory on the break shortly after the half hour mark, but an uncharacteristically heavy touch from Milly Clegg prevented the teenager from getting a strike on goal.
The Nix finished the half the stronger of the two sides, but were unable to threaten Casey Dumont’s goal. Besty Hassett, Satchell and Rolston all had shots blocked, while Wisnewski’s long-range effort in time added on sailed over the bar.
The Phoenix showed plenty of endeavour after the break but a long-range shot from Michaeala Foster was all they had to show for their efforts in the first 15 minutes of the second-half.
Lawrence responded by making a double change, bringing on Wellingtonians Michaela Robertson and Emma Main in place of Milly Clegg and Chloe Knott.
Dumont remained largely untroubled in the Victory goal, although a 64th-minute corner from Foster brought a rare error from the visitors’ keeper. Her defenders however, were able to scramble clear.
Lawrence made further changes in the 72nd minute, with Ava Pritchard and Claudia Cicco replacing Emma Rolston and Mackenzie Barry.
It had a near immediate impact with Prichard pulling a goal back for the Phoenix with quarter of an hour remaining. The substitute finished into an empty net after Main pounced on an under-hit back pass and forced another mistake from Dumont.
The Nix continued to push numbers forward in search of an equaliser but it was the Victory who came closest to scoring next.
Ayres forced a sharp save from Edwards in the 80th minute and a handful of moments later sprayed a gilt-edged opportunity wide of goal.
The chance finally came for Wellington in the ninth minute of time added on, when the busy Main headed into the visitors’ box and Wisnewski pounced on a Dumont error to hook her shot into another empty net.
The fulltime whistle was blown moments later, bringing an end to the Wellington Phoenix’s second season in the Liberty A-League.
The Phoenix finished their season with 13 points, one behind the Newcastle Jets, who were to play Sydney FC later in the day.
Game played on Saturday April 1, 2023
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Ava Pritchard 75′, Grace Wisnewski 90+9′)
Melbourne Victory 2 (Alana Murphy 4′, Melina Ayres 26′)
12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 3. Kate TAYLOR, 4. Mackenzie BARRY (17. Claudia CICCO 72nd), 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER, 7. Chloe KNOTT (c) (25. Emma MAIN 61st), 8. Grace WISNEWSKI, 11. Betsy HASSETT, 13. Paige SATCHELL, 16. Emma ROLSTON (9. Ava PRITCHARD 72nd), 20. Milly CLEGG (14. Michaela ROBERTSON 61st), 21. Michaela FOSTER.
Unused substitutes: 22. Georgia CANDY (gk).
1. Casey DUMONT (gk), 2. Tiffany ELIADIS, 3. Claudia BUNGE, 5. Jessika NASH, 6. Beattie GOAD, 8. Alana MURPHY (22. Ava BRIEDIS 82nd), 9. Catherine ZIMMERMAN (19. Lia PRIVITELLI 20th 17. Maja MARKOVSKI 90+1), 11. Natalie TATHEM (7. Gema SIMON 82nd), 14. Melina AYRES, 15. Amy JACKSON, 18. Kayla MORRISON (c).
Unused substitutes: 20, Miranda TEMPLEMAN (gk).
5. Jessika NASH (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 70th
15. Amy JACKSON (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 71st