Wellington’s Nicholas Pennington scored a 97th minute goal to secure a 2-1 win over a 10-man Perth Glory but their bid to secure an A-League Men finals spot took a hit with a serious injury to Clayton Lewis.
The Phoenix looked like they were heading for a draw at Leichhardt Oval after Ben Waine gave them a first-half lead and Nick Fitzgerald responded for Glory.
Even when Glory’s Osama Malik was sent off for a professional foul, Wellington struggled to break down Perth’s resolute defence.
But Pennington popped up at a corner and fired in the winner to move the Phoenix level with Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory on 24 points, although they remain in seventh because of their inferior goal difference.
The big concern for Wellington will be the loss of Lewis who reeled in agony after lunging to prevent a ball from going out of play in the second half.
He was eventually stretchered off after receiving treatment for a lengthy period and adds to a growing injury list for Ufuk Talay’s men which includes Alex Rufer, Gary Hooper and Jaushua Sotirio.
Talay was absent after contracting COVID-19 on his birthday with assistant Giancarlo Italiano filling the void, while bottom-placed Perth had interim boss Ruben Zadkovich in the dugout after the sacking of Richard Garcia last week.
“The win was fantastic for our boys, they showed a lot of guts,” said Italiano.
“My objective was to get Uffy three points for his birthday. I caught wind of this last night so I had all day to prepare.
“In terms of Clay, it’s very disappointing. He’s going to hospital for a scan.
“I’d be speculating but it’s a possible dislocation or fracture.
“It’s a significant blow because Clay has been so good for us all year.”
It was Wellington who began the brighter of the two sides and they got their breakthrough in the 36th minute when Waine volleyed past Liam Reddy.
Fitzgerald poked home in response in the 49th minute but any optimism for Glory was short lived when Malik fouled Waine four minutes later.
Waine looked to run onto a Finn Surman long ball when Malik collided with the Wellington forward and referee Kurt Ams produced the red card.
Wellington struggled to break Perth down but when a Sandoval corner was cleared in the 97th minute Pennington hammered it beyond Reddy to seal victory.
“It’s frustrating and it’s gutting for the boys,” said Zadkovich.
“The red card was a little bit deflating. Our first half was really flat and I think that’s a snapshot of where we are.
“I haven’t seen the replay (of the send-off) but I thought it was a clash of heels more than anything.”