Western United edged closer to the top six after holding on to claim a battling 1-1 draw with Wellington Phoenix despite playing half of the match with 10 players in Tasmania.
Brendan Hamill was shown a second yellow card when his arm connected with Ben Waine on the stroke of half-time, as the clash between A-League Finals Series contenders lay delicately poised after Lachlan Wales had cancelled out Waine’s opener.
The 19-year-old New Zealander, Waine, scored in his third straight game after only seven minutes, slotting in Ulises Davila’s cross to notch his fifth goal of the season as Ufuk Talay’s resurgent side made a strong start as they went in search of a third consecutive win for the first time in the 2020/21 campaign.
But Mark Rudan’s hosts, playing at UTAS Stadium in Launceston for the second consecutive game, hit back with their only shot on target of the contest when 23-year-old attacker Wales netted his third goal of the campaign in the 27th minute with a crisp finish from Connor Pain’s square ball.
The outlook changed for the Green and Black when Hamill was sent off two minutes into first-half stoppage time after the veteran caught the goalscorer Waine with a stray arm, but the Victorians were not overran in an evenly-matched second half despite their numerical disadvantage.
Substitute Tomer Hemed caused problems in the second stanza and Davila’s late strike crashed against the woodwork, but United’s solid backline – led by the impressive Tomoki Imai – navigated their way to a share of the spoils that leaves them one point back from sixth place with two games in hand over finals rivals Macarthur FC and Western Sydney Wanderers. Wellington remain ninth, three points off the top six.
United returned to UTAS Stadium after beating the Central Coast Mariners a week earlier and Dylan Pierias threatened to keep the feelgood factor flowing in the third minute, with his shot blocked by Steven Taylor after Alessandro Diamanti played in Connor Pain, but the Kiwi outfit struck when Louis Fenton hustled the ball away from Josh Risdon and Ulises Davila picked out Ben Waine.
After taking the lead, Wellington settled into the ascendancy in Launceston but chances were sparse as Pain for Western United and Waine for Phoenix drilled in dangerous crosses that flashed across goal. When space finally opened up, as Pain picked out Lachlan Wales in the penalty box, the Olyroos hopeful curled the hosts level with a perfectly-placed effort in the 27th minute.
Pierias gave Ufuk Talay’s squad another scare from Risdon’s cutback in the 39th minute when his goal-bound shot cannoned off a Wellington block, before Davila's 20-yard free-kick skimmed the United post. But the game changed on the cusp on half-time when Brendan Hamill was judged to have led with the arm in a duel with Waine and Mark Rudan’s side were reduced to 10 players.
Rudan's team changed their shape to contain Wellington but it was United that were creating the most dangerous moments after the break as Wales blazed a 49th-minute shot over the bar and Diamanti fired a free-kick off target. Tomoki Imai threw his body in the way of Davila's strike as Phoenix engineered a rare chance, before Pain tried his luck from a distance as the hosts continued remind Wellington of their threat.
The New Zealanders upped the tempo in the closing stages, with Israel international Tomer Hemed heading Fenton's cross off target in the 74th minute. Davila came closest to breaking the deadlock when his attempt crashed against the frame of the goal and Waine's late headed effort was gathered by goalkeeper Ryan Scott as Western United's defence stood firm to make it four points from their two-game stint in Tasmania.
Next fixtures – Matchweek 19
Adelaide United v Western United
Friday, 30 April 2021
Venue: Coopers Stadium
Kick-off: 7.35pm AEST
Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix
Saturday, 1 May 2021
Venue: Moreton Daily Stadium
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEST