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ALM premiership race goes to wire after 'Nix draw

3 minute read

Wellington's ALM premiership campaign will go down to the final game of the season after captain Alex Rufer fell short of the match-winner against Newcastle.

Wellington have had to settle for a 1-1 A-League Men draw in Newcastle after captain Alex Rufer missed an added-time penalty.

With the scores level at McDonald Jones Stadium, the Jets faithful let out a sigh of relief when Rufer botched his chance to seal the deal on Friday night.

Newcastle's Carl Jenkinson seemed to have handed the Phoenix the ascendancy in the race for the premier's plate after being penalised for handball.

But Giancarlo Italiano's men will have to fight until the final whistle of the regular season to claim a maiden piece of silverware.

Wellington did return to the top of the table, with Central Coast one point adrift but with a game in hand.

Jets coach Rob Stanton was proud of his team's effort, given the off-field turmoil surrounding the club.

Newcastle are yet to find a new owner and, denied a safety net by the Australian Professional Leagues, are at risk of folding.

"(Tonight's performance) says a lot about the players," Stanton said.

"What you're seeing now is a reflection of all the work they've put in.

"I know we're under tough times but if it gets sorted, hopefully it will get sorted, we can then set a new vision and an identity for the club and move forward."

Failing to capitalise from five consecutive corners in the opening seven minutes, the hosts finally got reward for effort thanks to a dogged effort by Lachlan Bayliss in the 15th minute.

Bayliss, receiving a clever pass from winger Clayton Taylor, fired home from close range via a big deflection off goalkeeper Alex Paulsen.

Adding more salt to Paulsen's wound, the goal went down as an own goal.

"I think 'AP' saw that ball late. That's why he couldn't get his hands cleanly to push that ball away," Italiano said after the match.

"I thought it was very uncharacteristic ... as you saw tonight, it doesn't always go to script."

The 21-year-old found redemption through a world-class save to deny Bayliss a chance to register a goal under his name in first-half added time.

Wellington's Kosta Barbarouses found the back of the net on 71 minutes to level, heading home after missing an opportunity seconds earlier.

The 34-year-old, with goalkeeper Ryan Scott at the far post, equalled former 'Nix forward Shane Smeltz as the fourth-highest goalscorer in the league with 92.

Trent Buhagiar thought he'd netted the winner for Newcastle in the 85th minute but he was ruled offside.

The Jets will be keeping one eye on Jenkinson's fitness, after dislocating his shoulder during the incident for the penalty.

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