The Wellington Phoenix have had to settle for a share of the points in their Isuzu UTE A-League Men season opener, with former goalkeeper Filip Kurto denying the Phoenix from making a winning start to the new campaign.
The Phoenix have drawn 1-1 with Macarthur FC on a wet and windy evening at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, after leading 1-0 at halftime.
Lachlan Rose equalised for Macarthur with a well-taken goal in the 61st minute after Wellington forward Gary Hooper had opened the scoring from the penalty spot midway through the first half.
The Phoenix would have had more to show for their efforts if it wasn’t for Kurto, who produced a number of quality saves.
His best came in the eighth minute when he denied Hooper from just a few yards out after the Englishman had got on the end of a great first-time ball from James McGarry.
But Kurto was powerless to prevent Hooper the next time they came head-to-head in the 25th minute, with the former Premier League striker blasting past the Pole from the penalty spot.
Phoenix playmaker Reno Piscopo had earned the spot kick after he was tripped inside the area by Macarthur defender James Meredith, following a clever turn just inside the box.
Referee Ben Abraham initially signalled for a free kick before the VAR intervened.
Wellington also controlled proceedings when they were out of possession, limiting the influence of Johnny Warren medallist Ulises Dávila and denying the Bulls a single shot on target in the first half.
Macarthur were able to put more pressure on the Phoenix at the start of the second half, but Oli Sail wasn’t forced to make a save until the 59th minute when Jordan Mutch’s long-range effort went straight into Sail’s arms.
The Bulls’ first shot on goal came after Wellington head coach Ufuk Talay was forced to make a double change, with Piscopo limping off with an ankle injury and Hooper replaced by the fresh legs of Jaushua Sotirio.
Macarthur soon had their equaliser with Rose directing a volley through a sea of bodies and beyond Sail.
The Phoenix had a chance to respond almost immediately, but Ben Waine slightly under-hit a cross to Sotirio and Kurto bravely denied the pacey forward.
Waine and Sotirio were rejected again in the 80th minute, this time from an incredible goal-line clearance from Macarthur defender Tomislav Uskok when the duo were waiting to pounce.
Wellington finished the stronger of the two sides, with the best opportunity falling to David Ball in stoppage time when Waine won possession in the Bulls’ box and teed up the Englishman. But Kurto again came to their rescue and produced a smart save.
Talay had mixed feelings after the final whistle but conceded “a draw is a fair result”.
“Happy and disappointed at the same time,” he told reporters post-match.
“I think the first-half we played very well, we dominated possession. We didn’t create as much but we were very good with the ball.
“You expect them to come out at us in the second-half 1-nil down and I think we weathered the storm quite well.
“Disappointed to concede a goal through a set piece like that and we had a couple of opportunities at the back end to possibly win it.”
Talay allayed concerns about Piscopo’s ankle injury.
“We’ll assess it but I highly doubt that he’ll be out for next week.
And has welcomed Hooper’s return to the Phoenix.
“You want your strikers to score and Hoops scored and I think he finished that penalty off quite well and I think he was influential for us within the game.
“It’s very important that our strikers score goals and they build confidence.”
The Wellington Phoenix next face the Central Coast Mariners at WIN Stadium in Wollongong on Saturday night.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 5. James MCGARRY, 6. Tim PAYNE, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO (8. Ben OLD 52nd min), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 88. Gary HOOPER (11. Jaushua SOTIRIO 55th min).
Macarthur FC: 12. Filip KURTO (gk), 4. James MEREDITH (14. Moudi NAIJAR 56th min), 6. Aleksandar JOVANOVIC, 7. Daniel DESILVA, 8. Jordan MUTCH (22. Liam ROSE 65th min), 10. Ulises DAVILA (c), 15. Aleksandar SUSNJAR, 17. Craig NOONE, 20. Tomislav USKOK, 24. Kokola M’MOMBWA (11. Tommy OAR 56th min), 31. Lachlan ROSE.
Gary HOOPER (Wellington Phoenix) – 25th min pen
Lachlan ROSE (Macarthur FC) – 61st min
Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 34th min
Tomislav USKOK (Macarthur FC) – yellow – 41st minLiam ROSE (Macarthur FC) – yellow – 67th min
Tim PAYNE (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 84th min
David BALL (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 88th min