WATCH: Wellington’s goalkeeping sensation makes himself a hero again with dramatic penalty save

Alex Paulsen saved an 88th-minute penalty as Wellington Phoenix defeated Perth Glory in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Alex Paulsen saved a dramatic 88th-minute penalty as Wellington Phoenix claimed their first win of the Isuzu UTE A-League season with a 2-1 win at home to Perth Glory in the ‘Distance Derby’.

Oskar Zawada’s sensational long-range strike broke the deadlock in the ninth minute before Glory captain Mark Beevers equalised in the 59th minute at Sky Stadium, where Bozhidar Kraev restored Wellington’s lead with 16 minutes remaining.

There was late drama, however, when young Wellington defender Lukas Kelly-Heald was penalised for handball as the ball appeared to be heading out of play – the referee overturned his original decision after a VAR review.

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But 21-year-old Phoenix goalkeeper Paulsen made himself a hero again after his round-one exploits last week, getting down low to deny Socceroos forward Adam Taggart with two minutes of regulation remaining.

Giancarlo Italiano became just the third manager to win their first A-League Men match in New Zealand as head coach of Wellington after Des Buckingham (14 January 2017) and Marko Rudan (21 October 2018).

There was a familiar face at Sky Stadium, albeit in opposing colours as Oli Sail returned to Wellington with Perth. It was a forgettable homecoming as his early mistake gifted the Phoenix a ninth-minute lead.

Wellington had dominated the early proceedings and they were 1-0 ahead when Sail’s attempt to play the ball out went straight to the feet of Zawada and the Polish star capitalised with a stunning long-range effort.

The ‘Nix almost doubled their lead in the 21st minute, however, Kraev was agonisingly denied by the base of the post.

As the half wore on, Wellington started to sit deep and deeper, and it allowed Perth more space and time in possession.

A teasing cross into the box caused all kinds of chaos just past the half-hour mark, though Alex Paulsen and the Phoenix managed to preserve their advantage.

Perth mounted more and more pressure and with five minutes remaining in the half, the visitors nearly restored parity.

Adam Taggart found substitute David Williams – a replacement for the injured Luke Ivanovic – with a cut-back but Paulsen produced a fine save and Tim Paine was on hand to clear the ball off the line.

The noise was drained out of Sky Stadium as captain Mark Beevers equalised approaching the hour mark.

Oliver Bozanic stood the ball up for towering centre-back Beevers to head home the set-piece.

But the Phoenix restore their lead in a swift attacking move, finished by Kraev with 16 minutes remaining – Kosta Barbarouses surged forward after Ben Old dispossessed Perth and he played the ball to Zawada, who then turned provider for Kraev.

Perth had the chance to equalise once more during the closing stages, but Poulsen had other ideas after he pushed Taggart’s penalty away for a corner.

The talking point 

Just as Wellington appeared to be seeing out the win, drama ensued.

A seemingly harmless cross into the penalty area was drifting out of play when it hit Kelly-Heald on the arm inside the final minutes.

Initially, no penalty was given but the referee was encouraged to review the incident on the pitch-side monitor.

After reviewing the footage, a penalty was given, however Paulsen flexed his muscles to keep out Taggart’s late penalty.

The star 

Step forward Oskar Zawada. 

In his first season in the A-Leagues, the big Polish forward scored 15 goals. On Saturday, he was not only scoring goals but setting them up too. 

After his sensational opening goal, Zawada provided the assist for Kraev to put Wellington ahead in the 74th minute and it proved to be the decisive goal. 

Zawada has now been directly involved in 10 of Wellington Phoenix’ last 13 goals in the A-Leagues (eight goals, two assist), while he has scored a goal in each of his three appearances against Perth Glory in the league. 

What they said

After his penalty heroics, Alex Paulsen was asked about the moment Wellington conceded the spot-kick.

“My heart dropped to be fair, especially at that late stage of the game,” he told Sky New Zealand:

“It’s one of those things and a penalty like that comes into play, everyone’s hearts drop.”

His performance came after an eye-catching display against Western Sydney Wanderers, where he helped the Phoenix earn a 0-0 draw away from home.

After his second consecutive start of the season but first at Sky Stadium, Paulsen added: “It’s fantastic. It’s a great atmosphere.

“It’s something special too because it’s my debut here at the stadium as well. I’ve never played here before.

“It’s a special moment”

What it means 

Wellington are undefeated after two rounds and have their first win of the season. The Phoenix are also undefeated in their last eight A-League Men matches against Perth (W5 D3) – the longest unbeaten run by either team in the history of this fixture. 

Next up for the ‘Nix is the visit of high-flying Brisbane Roar on November 4. 

As for Perth, they are still searching for their first won of the season having collected one point from two matches. 

The Glory, who have won only one of their past 23 A-League Men matches outside Western Australia (D4 L18), host Central Coast Mariners in round three on November 4.