ALTONA East Phoenix stole a point from the jaws of defeat in a 1-1 draw with Westgate in Football Federation Victoria men's state league2 north-west at Paisley Park on Saturday.
Phoenix coach Terry Antoniadis told the Weekly his side was "lucky" to claim a share of the points, but players had been rewarded for their refusal to give in when the visitors appeared to have the upper hand.
"I have mixed feelings after that game. We had a few boys down and Westgate were the better side on the day. The one thing I've come to admire from my players is they keep going right till the end. They never know when they're done."
The first hour was dominated by Westgate.
Alex Jovicic made their edge in possession count with a goal five minutes before the break.
Antoniadis was pleased with how his side had defended for the most part of that opening hour but was left scratching his head at a blunder-filled five minutes that crept in before half-time.
"For five minutes, we completely lost the plot," he said. "We switched off mentally."
The game did a U-turn midway through the second half when Westgate star Kwabee Otou-Acheampong was sent off for what the referee deemed a dangerous tackle.
This created a hole and boosted the spirits of the home side. The attacks on the Phoenix defence became less frequent and those on the last line, including Jason Bosnic, George Noulis and Sam Winch, were under less pressure and able to set up attacks from the back third.
PJ Galea was a key pivot in the midfield and the chances came in attack.
The Phoenix twice hit the post in search of the equaliser. But it took an injury-time penalty for the Phoenix finally to get the goal they strived so hard for in the last 30 minutes.
Super sub Franck Labakohler stepped up at the penalty spot and with his right foot drove the ball with ferocity to the right of the Westgate goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
"It was a case of deja vu," Antoniadis said. "We received a penalty in injury time against Clifton Hill earlier in the season and missed, so I wasn't celebrating early. Fortunately, we converted this one."
The Phoenix are stuck in a logjam of eight teams from positions two to 10 on the ladder, separated by five points. Their win-draw-loss column at 3-3-3 displays their inconsistent pattern this season.
Antoniadis said his side must "bridge the gap" between its best and worst performances if it wants to challenge for promotion in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Michael Curcija-coached Williamstown claimed a shock 3-1 win over Hume United on the road at Laura Douglas Reserve to move out of the state league 3 north-west relegation zone. Altona North maintained its pursuit of the men's metropolitan league central top-two with a 3-0 belting of Manningham United at Duane Reserve with Josh Bondin, Leigh Galea and Jerobeam Damons finding the back of the net.