For the second time in six days the Wellington Phoenix showed what coach Ricki Herbert called “immense character” to come from behind and earn a point in a 1-1 draw with Adelaide United before a club record crowd of 20,078.
It was the biggest crowd to witness a Phoenix regular season “home” game and most went away satisfied after seeing the Wellington team get a draw thanks to an own goal by Adelaide-s Nigel Boogaard.
The 83rd minute equaliser came when Boogaard headed a Paul Ifill cross into his own goal and it was no more than the Phoenix deserved.
Dominating most of the game, the Phoenix were stunned when Adelaide took a shock lead a minute before halftime through Bruce Djite slotting the ball past goalkeeper Tony Warner after some slack defending allowed him to break away.
Wellington continued to dominate for much of the second half but it seemed they would go unrewarded till Ifill stepped up with his driven cross.
Ifill-s return from injury in the 59th minute when he replaced the hard-working Alex Smith provided the spark the Phoenix were looking for.
His speed, close control and unpredictability makes him tough for defences to handle and every time he got on the ball the big crowd were on their feet in anticipation.
Herbert he would have been gutted for the team and the fantastic crowd had his team got nothing from the game.
“I thought we were well in control and it was disappointing to give a goal away with a ball in behind our defence,” Herbert said.
“The character we showed to come back, as we did last week in Brisbane, was immense.
“The crowd was fantastic and they were desperate for us to score in those last few minutes.
“To get 20,000, along with the crowds we got in Christchurch for our two games there, and 15,000 for a pre-season game in Dunedin, shows how well the Wellington Phoenix brand has been welcomed by the whole of New Zealand.
“That-s why I was so pleased when the goal went in.
“Things haven-t been going our way, and we haven-t had much luck, but maybe that break is just what we need to set us off on a run.”
Central defender Ben Sigmund was the Phoenix player putting pressure on Boogaard for the own goal and said he felt something was on when he charged into the penalty area.
“I thought Iffy is always good for a decent cross so I made sure I got in there.
“The only disappointing thing was the goal they scored and we as a back four have to look at that.
“When we were pressing for the equaliser the atmosphere was fantastic and you have to take your hats off to Aucklanders for coming out and supporting us in such numbers.
“I think what we have in the dressing room is pretty unique and that togetherness helps us get through when the going is tough.”
Phoenix marketing manager David Dome said the big walk up crowd was unexpected with 4000 people being processed in the hour before the game.
“We apologise for those who missed the start of the game but all the ticket booths were open.
“It is pretty amazing that 25 per cent of the gate arrived in the last hour. No-one who had pre-purchased a ticket missed the kick off.”
Asked if the Auckland turnout would entice the Phoenix to play more than one game a season out of Wellington Dome said that was unlikely to happen.
“Wellington is our core support and we won-t be changing that.
“What we could do is invite Gold Coast to play their home game against the Phoenix here as they recently played a “home” game in Adelaide because of the poor support they receive at Skilled Park.”
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Nigel Boogaard own goal), Adelaide United 1 (Bruce Djite). HT: 0-1. Crowd 20,078