Pat Lee Nichols returns with the Seventeenth instalment of The Goalkeeper's Chronicle; this time, we're heading down under…
A game can be won by any player on the pitch. A striker paid to produce when it matters most. A tricky winger expected to dazzle opposing defenders near the touchline. Even full-backs are primed to deliver match-winning crosses in the modern game.
What we love most is when the headlines include the goalkeeper, the unsung hero in many tales of old, getting their due praise for delivering in the dying embers of a match. Today, we shine light on a classic down under; a look at a game that played out like a film between Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix.
A quite ordinary first 70 minutes saw the visitors lead by a goal to nil. However, the leader's resolve would be quickly tested as referee Shaun Evans brandished two red cards for the Phoenix against midfielders Kraev and Pennington.
The natural consequence ensued: a flurry of attacks from Sydney as the nine men held on desperately, their turmoil furthered by the number on the fourth official's board. Eight minutes of added time. A death sentence for an already wearisome side. Unfortunately, the bag of tricks to waste time had been emptied within regular time, with goalkeeper Oliver Sail booked for time wasting in the 88th minute.
The New Zealand goalkeeper kept command of his box during the onslaught as Sydney filled the box with a mix of floated and whipped crosses. A ball came in from the right, well out of Sail's locale. The ball was challenged by attacker and defender in equal measure, and a flailing arm was deemed to affect the ball's trajectory by the official, who took no time to point to the spot.
A great chance as any in football. 12 yards out. Just one man to beat. Wellington's shot-stopper had put together a really solid performance but faced the reliable Adam Le Fondre, who connected well with the ball, sending it to the goalkeeper's left. Sail stood tall until the perfect moment, springing to meet the ball with equal vigour.
Bedlam followed the initial stop. The save, whilst great, was parried back into the box. A Sydney player would collect the ball and attempt a dinked cross, incidentally hitting a hand once again. This time, (at least in real time) the referee awarded a corner and waved away appeals. All the while, Sail could be seen passionately celebrating after the first A-League penalty save of his career.
However, the technology would not allow Sail to revel in his achievement for long. The team in charge of VAR deemed a second look necessary and off went Mr Evans to review the footage on the monitor.
To the disbelief of the 14,000 in attendance, the decision would be reversed and a second penalty in as many minutes awarded to Sydney FC. The same man would again step up to take the penalty. Missing one penalty happens. Two in a row is improbable. The odds were firmly stacked against Wellington. A crescendo to the drama followed as Le Fondre would send his second penalty wide of the mark. The jubilant celebrations that followed could be likened to that of a cup final.
The hero of the day: Oliver Sail, the goalkeeper. Just how we like it.