With a makeshift team made necessary by injuries and suspensions, the Wellington Phoenix turned in a gutsy performance to hold Hyundai A-League leaders Brisbane Roar to a scoreless draw at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on Sunday night.
Phoenix fans must have feared the worst when they looked at a starting line-up that was missing Manny Muscat, Roly Bonevacia, Alex Rodriguez, Alex Rufer, Louis Fenton, Ben Sigmund and Roy Krishna.
Ninety minutes later the inexperienced side left the field with the cheers of more than 7000 fans ringing in their ears, appreciative of the effort they had just witnessed.
In the closing stages the home side could easily have snatched a winner but Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick acknowledged Roar could just as easily have taken all three points in a frantic finish.
Merrick was delighted with the way his team played and acknowledged that in central defender Dylan Fox, who took the man of the match award on his debut, the club had unearthed a gem for the future.
“I thought that under the circumstances it was an outstanding performance by a very inexperienced squad,” Merrick said.
“Other than Dura (captain Andrew Durante) the rest of the back four had only nine A-League games to their credit but you wouldn’t have known it from the way they performed.
“I also thought that the way Vince Lia and Albert Riera marshalled the midfield in front of them was terrific.
“Blake (Powell) worked hard, Mikey McGlinchey was outstanding the young Matt Ridenton tremendous till he ran out of legs.
“Jeffery Sarpong’s calf took its toll, but everyone that came off the bench did a great job.
“I was pretty impressed all round with the performance.”
The Phoenix also had the bravery of referee Stephen Lucas to thank for their hard-earned point.
It would be fair to say that the Wellington side haven’t had much luck with penalty awards this season and it seemed the trend was going to continue when Lucas pointed to the spot in the 32nd minute, ruling that Durante had handled in the penalty area.
As the Phoenix players protested, Lucas was informed by his assistant that Durante had been pushed in the back and the official gave the free kick to Wellington.
“I thought it was great that the referee consulted his assistant and came to the right decision,” Merrick said.
“Look how hard done by we’ve been with penalties this season, especially last week, so I thought it was a brave decision by the referee.”