Wanderers and Phoenix share points in Wollongong

A late equaliser from Western Sydney Wanderers’ Yeni Ngbakoto has cancelled out Bozhidar Kraev’s opener and enabled his side to force a 1-1 draw with Wellington Phoenix in their A-League Men meeting at WIN Stadium. 

Returning to action on Saturday for the first time since the league broke for the FIFA World Cup, both teams showed signs of rust, with Kraev’s fourth goal in five games a rare moment of inspiration to give Phoenix the lead. 

But Ngbakoto’s first ALM strike served to deny the Kiwis three points – albeit his free kick from the flank was initially meant for a teammate, only to bounce past everyone, fool goalkeeper Oli Sai and nestle inside the post.

Denied a chance to move into fourth, the Phoenix will next host Adelaide in New Zealand on Saturday, while the Wanderers will travel to face Western United on Sunday. 

“It was a very difficult game, very intense,” Kraev told Paramount.

“At the end of the day, it’s a draw, one point.

“We deserved the three points but in the end we conceded a goal from a set piece, (which was) unlucky.”

Playing a home game in Wollongong as part of a commitment the club made to the region during two COVID-affected seasons spent there, Wellington went close early when Scott Wootton forced Lawrence Thomas to make a one-handed save from a headed effort in the 15th minute. 

Nine minutes later it was Sail’s turn to leap into action to deny a Sulejman Krpic header up the other end.

The game was largely tepid for vast stretches, but Sail again came to the rescue in the 57th minute when he dived out to clear away a ball headed across the six-yard box by Brandon Borrello after a cross in from the right. 

Four minutes later, Kraev broke the deadlock when he rose over Gabriel Cleur and headed in a Clayton Lewis cross. 

But just as the Phoenix looked to ice the game, fate smiled on Ngbakoto’s 79th-minute free kick and the scores were level again. 

Both sides had late chances as fatigue kicked in, defensive discipline waned and tension rose, but neither could find a winner.

“When we conceded the goal, we didn’t put our heads down, we kept going,” Ngbakoto told Paramount.

“We kept fighting until the end and we are lucky to score this goal.”

Though they were able to grab a point, the Wanderers will be sweating on the fitness of star man Milos Ninkovic, who limped off towards the end, just 19 minutes after being subbed on.