Sunday, August 29, 2010 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
But fullback Lachie Munro, who missed just one of six previous shots at goal, sent the ball wide allowing the home side to steal the win.
"I'm happy to get the win but I've probably saved the worst game of my life for my 50th," said Mathewson.
"I almost blew it at the end there but it's debatable whether it was a penalty or not.
"I'm short so refs think I'm not on my feet but I'm short so I'm always on my feet," he joked.
It was a lucky escape for Wellington who were on the back foot for much of the first half and trailed 10-25 at the break after being outscored by three tries to two.
Rene Ranger was as elusive as ever and had a hand in two of Northland's tries.
The All Blacks winger ran a lovely angle onto a pop up pass from Jared Payne to set up Aaron Bancroft for the first in just the fifth minute.
Then it was Ranger's break down the left wing, coupled with some crafty running from Payne that stopped Shaun Treeby from tackling his team-mate, that put Dean Budd in unopposed for the first of his brace.
"He's had his best game of the year today," said Northland coach Bryce Woodward of Ranger.
"I thought he was a bit lazy in our first two games and we've missed him the last two. He's come back and played really well today."
Budd's second also raised eyebrows in the Wellington ranks as the blindside flanker appeared not to release Victor Vito before stealing the ball and diving over the line.
"We initially thought that [Treeby had been impeded] looking at the replay," said Lions coach Andre Bell. "We thought it was a dubious try and also Victor going back - the rules are he has to get to his feet and he wasn't allowed to. It caused frustration among our guys.
"But we'll take the win and the five points and move on to Manawatu."
Treeby and Vito's tries had kept Wellington in touch in the first half but after the break the Lions showed more composure and cut out the 50-50 passes that had been costly in the opening 40 minutes.
The result was converted tries for Julian Savea and Vito before Schwalger's match-winner with Northland managing just a Munro penalty in reply.
"We knew we had to come out hard in the second half or we were going to get put away," said Mathewson.
"We talked just about holding the ball and building phases and not throwing those 50-50 passes. In the end we built some pressure and a few penalties went our way and we slowly got back into the game. Once we held the ball we put them under pressure."
Woodward was blunt in his assessment of why his team had lost a match they should have won.
"We struggled at lineout time which killed us and some of our first-up tackles weren't good enough and a combination of those two things meant we ended up letting them in," he said.
As in the close defeat to North Harbour, Northland were unable to sustain the momentum and pressure for the full 80 minutes.
"We've played well all season especially at the start. We've created space and we've been able to finish off. We scored some good tries," said Woodward.
"But you've got to be able to sustain pressure when the going gets tough and we haven't been able to do that in a couple of games this year.
"We've had five games and I would suggest we were in a position to win four of them and we've only won two so that's bitterly disappointing to be fair."
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