A DOMINANT second-half performance by the Wellington Phoenix ensured the Hyundai A-League competition points were shared following a pulsating 2-2 draw with the Melbourne Victory at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.
Played in clear, perfect conditions before 6475 fans, the home side could feel unlucky not collecting successive wins over Melbourne opponents, following their 2-0 midweek win against the Heart and given their dominance in the second stanza.
In the end it was Phoenix talisman Paul Ifill-s 84th-minute equaliser that gave the home side continued confidence following an earlier spell of indifferent form. The result from the last two home games – and four competition points – keeps the Phoenix level in the standings with the Victory and firmly in playoffs contention.
Midfielder Tim Brown had an early opportunity to give the home side the perfect start when he pounced on loose ball inside the penalty area, rounded Victory goalkeeper Michael Petkovic but sent his left-footed strike from a difficult angle into the side netting.
Brown turned provider on 14 minutes with a fine centre field pass to Ifill, but his shot on goal was well saved by the visiting custodian. But that was just the entrée and Brown served up the main when, in the 17th minute, he sent a low drive into the right-hand corner of the goal to open the scoring. It came on the back of fine lead-up work from Leo Bertos, a head-on by Vince Lia and a Troy Hearfield delivery inside the penalty area for Brown to complete a fine passage of play.
The joy was short-lived, however, with Victory front man Archie Thompson squaring the ledger on 19 minutes following a delightful one-two with Carlos Hernandez. Thompson showed his football nous to get the better of 18-year-old Phoenix defender James Musa, in his first start for the club, and finish past goalkeeper Mark Paston with some comfort. Thompson-s goal was his 50th in the Hyundai A-League – the first player in the competition to achieve the milestone.
The visitors went ahead in the 40th minute after a delightfully controlled passage of play where they retained possession and stretched the Phoenix defence before Billy Celeski sent in a low cross from the right flank for the unmarked Robbie Kruse to push home from the six-yard box.
The Phoenix made a bright start to the second stanza, with an Ifill cross just too high for Brown at the far post. Ifill continued to menace the Victory defence, forcing a corner and looking dangerous in front of goal as the home side pressed for an equaliser.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert pressed former Victory man Nick Ward into action in the 55th minute, a midfield swap for Bertos. Striker Chris Greenacre entered soon after for midfielder Daniel, a clear indication of Herbert-s attacking intent.
For all the attacking endeavour the Phoenix found it difficult to breach the Victory defence – a Troy Hearfield smack from distance with 20 minutes remaining flashing close to the left-hand goalpost.
The home side switched to a three-man defensive lineup when debutant Musa made way for Marco Rojas with 15 minutes remaining. It almost immediately paid dividends when Ifill found space but could not put his strike beyond Petkovic. The attacking raids, and chances, continued through a Jade North header from a corner followed by another Ifill shot on goal repelled by Petkovic,
The constant pressure was finally rewarded when, in the 84th minute, Ifill beat his marker Roddy Vargas and from inside the penalty area fired the ball like a rocket inside Petkovic-s near post to ensure the points were shared.
The busy schedule continues for the Phoenix with their next game away against Sydney FC on Wednesday, December 1, before taking on Adelaide United in Christchurch on December 5.