The Wellington Phoenix have been forced to settle for a point in their 2022-23 Isuzu UTE A-League season opener.
Adelaide United winger Ben Halloran has equalised two minutes into second-half stoppage time to snatch a 1-1 draw against the undermanned Phoenix in their opening round match at Sky Stadium in Wellington.
The Nix were forced to play 65 minutes with just 10 men after new Brazilian playmaker Yan Sasse was red carded midway through the first-half.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, Wellington had the better of the second-half and substitute striker Ben Waine put the Phoenix in front in the 75th minute, when he scored his maiden goal at Sky Stadium.
Head coach Ufuk Talay had mixed feelings when he spoke to media after the match.
“I’m disappointed to concede the way that we did with a set piece in the last couple of minutes of the game,” Talay said. “But I’m very pleased with the boys. I think we nearly played a perfect half with the 10 men we had on the park.
“We spoke at halftime about if we get the opportunity on the counter, can we capitalise on it and we capitalised on one of the opportunities we created.
“Overall for the period of time we played with 10 men to walk away with one point is still a positive.”
Talay was reluctant to dwell on the red card and instead wanted to focus on the “fantastic” performance of his players.
“In my opinion the call was a little bit too trigger happy to pull it (the red card) out straight away, but that’s the way that they saw it so we move on.”
Adelaide United settled the quicker of the two sides and Phoenix ‘keeper Oli Sail was called into action in just the seventh minute to parry away a curling effort from Louis D’Arrigo.
The Nix were mostly reduced to playing on the counter inside the opening 20 minutes and their best moment came after some good interplay from their new attacking midfielders, but Bozhidar Kraev and Sasse were unable to find the final pass to test Adelaide goalkeeper Joe Gauci.
Sasse wasn’t on the field much longer. He was sent off after slipping and collecting Spanish defender Javi Lopez in the 25th minute.
It was the first red card shown to a Phoenix player in more than 600 days, with the Nix the only A-League men’s team not to have a player sent off in the 2021-22 season.
Despite being a man down for the remainder of the half, Wellington got into the better goalscoring positions before the break.
Centre back Josh Laws blazed narrowly off target after breaking the off-side trap, following a set piece, while the Phoenix earned a free-kick in a dangerous position just outside the Adelaide penalty area, but weren’t able to capitalise.
It was an open start to the second half with the ‘keepers from both sides called into action.
Adelaide defender Harry Van Der Saag shot straight at Sail from distance before the Nix’s new Polish striker Oskar Zawada broke into the box but mishit his shot and was unable to properly test Gauci.
Both sides were struggling to find the final pass to unlock the opposition defence until Waine found the back of the net in the 75th minute.
He was the quickest to react after Gauci was unable to parry away a shot from Kosta Barbarouses to safety.
Adelaide United threw extra bodies forward in the closing stages in search of an equaliser and eventually levelled the scores from a corner in the 93rd minute, when Halloran steered a shot past an out-stretched Sail.
The Phoenix players looked dejected afterwards, knowing they were so close to taking all three points from their season opener for their first time under Talay.
The Wellington Phoenix will return to Sky Stadium next Sunday to host the Central Coast Mariners.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES 9. Oskar ZAWADA (8. Ben OLD 57th), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (18. Ben WAINE 56th), 12. Lucas MAURAGIS (17. Callan ELLIOT 65th), 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON (23. Clayton LEWIS 65th), 21. Joshua LAWS, 31. Yan SASSE
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM
Adelaide United: 46. Joe GAUCI (gk), 2. Harry VAN DER SAAG (11. Craig GOODWIN 57th), 6 Louis D’ARRIGO (47. Asad KASUMOVIC 87th), 7. Ryan KITTO (c), 8. ISAIAS, 10. Zac CLOUGH, 13. Lachlan BARR (55. Ethan ALAGICH 87th), 14. George BLACKWOOD (49. Musa TOURE 73rd), 21. Javi LOPEZ, 26. Benjamin HALLORAN, 41. Alexandar POPOVIC
Unused substitutes: 1. James DELIANOV (gk), 3. Benjamin WARLAND, 28. JUANDE
18. Ben WAINE (Wellington Phoenix) – 75th
26. Benjamin HALLORAN (Adelaide United) – 90+3
31. Yan SASSE (Wellington Phoenix) – red – 25th
41. Alexandar POPOVIC (Adelaide United) – 34th
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 39th
49. Musa TOURE (Adelaide United) – yellow 79th
20. Oli SAIL (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 85th