IT WAS back to the drawing board for the Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the 0-0 stalemate with the Central Coast Mariners their fifth draw in eight outings in the Hyundai A-League this season.
The result of the match – the Phoenix-s 50th in the Hyundai A-League – wasn-t what the home side was after, though it extended the Phoenix-s unbeaten run at Westpac Stadium to an impressive 10 matches.
It was not as if the Phoenix were short on attacking endeavour against the Mariners, it was more a case of opportunities lost in a game that ultimately both sides could feel justified in taking points from. As it stands, the Phoenix have won just once this season – back in round two against Perth Glory – through they have drawn several matches they deserved to win in the past month.
Despite the scoreline there was plenty of intent and combative willingness at both ends that kept the 6769-strong crowd fully entertained in clear but windy conditions.
It was the visiting Mariners that posed the greater threat in the attacking third early on. They had the ball in Phoenix goalkeeper Mark Paston-s net in the 10th minute through Nicky Travis but the home side was fortunate the assistant referee had his flag up for offside.
Travis tested Paston five minutes later with a free kick on target from distance but found the No 1 up to the task with a degree of comfort. Paston-s workout was extended in the 25th minute when he was forced from his area to deny an advancing Nigel Boogaard.
The home side had its first strike in anger on target in the 25th minute when Paul Ifill found space in centre field and forced Mariners custodian Danny Vukovic to stretch and deny. The path to goal opened in the following five minutes, Ifill again making Vukovic work for his money and then Leo Bertos shooting from distance. Ifill completed a hat-trick of chances soon after when his close range effort found Vukovic-s legs and safety.
The balance of play by halftime suggested better things ahead for the Phoenix, the only concern aside from the scoreless stalemate being two yellow cards picked up by captain Andrew Durante and right back Manny Muscat.
The second stanza started brightly for the Phoenix, with Adrian Caceres – playing against his former club – breaking clear near halfway in a surging centre field run before offloading to Greenacre in the penalty area. However, the Phoenix striker-s effort was deflected high and wide.
Paston was on hand in the 51st minute to defuse a weak header on goal by Mariners captain Alex Wilkinson. Soon after, Greenacre put his head to a sweeping movement that involved the fresh legs of youngster Costa Barbarouses (on for Caceres) and Bertos, but the deadlock remained.
It was a heart in the mouth moment for big Ben Sigmund just after the hour when a strike from Michael McGlinchey deflected just wide of Paston-s left post. Paston was on hand moments later to foil a goalmouth scramble as the visitors exerted sustained pressure, and again following Tim Brown-s yellow card with 20 minutes remaining to deny a 25m freekick from Pedj Bojic.
It was end to end action to close out the match as both sides searched for three competition points, but ultimately to no avail.
The Phoenix-s next match is away to Gold Coast United on Friday.
Wellington Phoenix 0
Central Coast Mariners 0
6769 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Wellington Phoenix: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS (13. Troy HEARFIELD 82-), 8. Paul IFILL (21. Marco ROJAS 73-), 9. Chris GREENACRE, 14. Adrian CACERES (23. Costa BARBAROUSES 56-), 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 22. Andrew DURANTE (c).
Substitutes not used: 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk).
Yellow cards: Andrew Durante 37-, Manny Muscat 41-, Tim Brown 70-.
Central Coast Mariners: 20. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 4. Pedj BOJIC, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 8. Dean HEFFERNAN, 11. Dylan MACALLISTER, 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 16. Nigel BOOGAARD, 17. Chris DOIG, 18. Alex WILKINSON (c), 19. Matt SIMON (23. Adam KWASNIK 73-), 22. Nicky TRAVIS (2. Matthew CROWELL 84-).
Substitutes not used: 15. Andrew CLARK, 30. Matthew RYAN (gk).
Yellow cards: Dylan MacAllister 64-, Alex Wilkinson 90+1-.