Wellington star Ulises Davila scored one of the goals of the A-League season before fluffing one of the worst misses as the Phoenix and Sydney FC played out a riveting 2-2 draw.
The home side were unfortunate not to come away with more at Westpac Stadium on Saturday after playing well enough to at least snap the league leaders' six-match winning streak. The sixth-placed Phoenix maintained a six-game unbeaten run and further announced themselves as finals contenders under Ufuk Talay.
Last year's Sydney FC assistant coach devised a plan to rattle the defending premiers, dominating in the middle of the park through a short, patient passing game that created the better opportunities. However, the 55th-minute introduction from the bench of Sydney attacking wizard Milos Ninkovic proved a turning point. The Serbian shook off a calf niggle to set up the equaliser via an own goal from Phoenix skipper Steven Taylor and he created further late scares for Wellington.
The home team's playmaking star, Davila, was central to two key moments. He put them 2-1 ahead with a goal of rare quality before halftime but was guilty of butchering a gift chance during the thrilling final 20 minutes. The Mexican somehow pushed Liberato Cacace's cross wide of an unguarded goal from two yards out.
Talay refused to criticise a player who has registered seven goals this season and been a constant attacking threat.
"That's part of football. I'm sure he wants to score and he's been doing a great job so far," Talay said. "The most important thing for me is that he's in that area. Because if you're not in there, then we can't even talk about it.
"Look, I thought it was a good performance from our boys. Maybe started off a little slow... then after that I thought we controlled the game quite well."
Adam Le Fondre's opener for Sydney was his 11th goal of the campaign, the striker latching onto an innocuous toe poke from Kosta Barbarouses and getting a foot in ahead of hesitant goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.
Olyroos winger Reno Piscopo's equaliser was his first Phoenix goal. It came via fast-breaking Englishman David Ball keeping the defence at bay before delivering a rifling cross.
Davila's goal oozed quality, featuring some neat one-touch build-up play before Tim Payne's cross was met on the half-volley to put Wellington deservedly 2-1 up at the break.
Ninkovic's arrival then reaped immediate rewards, winning the free kick which led to Taylor's own-goal. The veteran Phoenix skipper unable to get his torso clear of a ball whipped across the box by Luke Brattan.
Sky Blues coach Steve Corica said Ninkovic's late impact illustrated the importance of his midweek contract extension.
"You can just see when he comes on, he changes the game," he said. "He gets quality touches and gets in good positions to create things for other players... he helped change the game in the second half."