Narrow opening round defeat for men’s reserves

The Wellington Phoenix reserves have been edged by the reigning champions in their opening match of the men’s National League Championship.

A new-look Phoenix reserves have been beaten 1-0 by Auckland City FC at Fraser Park in Lower Hutt, after a scoreless opening hour.

Auckland City captain Mario Ilich broke the reserves’ resistance in the 64th minute when he poked home a corner at the back post.

Dan McKay led the Wellington Phoenix reserves in the absence of Isaac Hughes, who has graduated to the first team, and he was joined in the starting XI by regular teammates Alby Kelly-Heald, Charlie Beale and Ben Wallace, while Xuan Loke, Lewis Partridge, Ryan Watson and Hayden Thomas were named to make their national league debuts.

Kelly-Heald made a couple of top-class saves in the first half to keep the Phoenix reserves in the match, while his opposite Joe Wallis was up to the task whenever he was called upon.

Wallace had the best chance to draw the reserves level in the second half when he was slipped through one-on-one with Wallis, but he was unable to beat Auckland City’s ‘keeper.

It was an opportunity Chris Greenacre’s side was left to rue as they were unable threaten Wallis again before the fulltime whistle.

Sam Proctor, Anaru Cassidy and Joseph Cornille made their national league debuts off the bench in the second half, injecting some fresh legs into a tiring Phoenix reserves side.

The Wellington Phoenix reserves face another tough test next weekend when they visit Chatham Cup winners Christchurch United.

Wellington Phoenix reserves:
1.Alby KELLY-HEALD (gk), 2. Xuan LOKE, 3. Lewis PARTRIDGE, 4. Seth KARUNARATNE (24. Joseph CORNILLE 90+3), 7. Ryan WATSON (19. Sam PROCTOR 73rd), 8. Dan MCKAY, 10. Charlie BEALE (c), 15. Hayden THOMAS (5. Anaru CASSIDY 73rd), 18. Ben WALLACE, 22. Marco LORENZ, 29. Daniel MAKOWEM.
Unused substitutes: 12. Alex BRAAKHUIS, 25. Athan THOMPSON.

Auckland City FC: 24. Joe WALLIS (gk), 2. Mario ILICH (c), 3. Adam MITCHELL, 4. Christian GRAY, 8. Gerard GARRIGA (7. Cam HOWIESON 59th), 9. Angus KILKOLLY (19. Liam GILLION 53rd), 13. Nathan LOBO, 14. Jordan VALE, 16. Joe LEE, 17. Oliver COLLOTY (26. Rayan TAYEB 78th), 25. Michael DEN HEIJER.
Unused substitutes: 1. Conor TRACEY (gk), 21. Takuya IWATA.

2. Mario ILICH (Auckland City) – 64th

18. Ben WALLACE (Wellington Phoenix reserves) – yellow – 80th

Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.