WELLINGTON Phoenix were left to rue a late equaliser from the table-topping Melbourne Victory, drawing 1-1 in their Hyundai A-League match in Wellington on Friday night.
Before a healthy crowd of 8206 fans at Westpac Stadium the home side extended its unbeaten streak at home to 14 matches – equalling the record set by Sydney FC in making its home a fortress.
But that was tempered by the two competition points that the home side let slip after hard working and uncompromising midfielder Tim Brown had put the Phoenix ahead in the 57th minute. To compound matters, Melbourne played much of the match with only 10 men after Nicky Ward was sent off five minutes before halftime after collecting his second yellow card from referee Michael Hester.
The draw keeps the Phoenix in sixth spot for now, with games still to play in round 17.
After a slow start the match, punctuated by a yellow card to Phoenix midfielder Vince Lia for a dangerous tackle, interest was sparked when hometown captain Andrew Durante sent a looping back pass just wide of goalkeeper Mark Paston-s left-hand post in the 14th minute.
Frontman Paul Ifill sent a chip from the penalty area over Melbourne goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak and the crossbar four minutes later as the Phoenix – particularly their midfield – began to build into their work.
Phoenix playmaker Daniel, in his 50th match for the club, forced Langerak to save low and to his left with a goal-bound strike just past the half hour.
The odds turned heavily into the Phoenix-s favour in the 40th minute when Melbourne-s Ward was shown a second yellow card, and then an automatic red, for his second professional foul on Phoenix right back Troy Hearfield.
The second stanza opened up in fine style, with Phoenix custodian Paston saving from Archie Thompson before the action went the full length of the field for Ifill to return the favour, forcing Langerak to deflect a goal-bound effort away to safety.
The Phoenix-s pressure finally told when, 12 minutes in, Brown headed home a handy cross from Leo Bertos – his six-yard nod giving Langerak no chance.
It was 10-man Melbourne that applied the most pressure in the remainder of the second half, dominating possession and having quicker ball speed. Carlos Hernandez caused a few palpitations in the final 10 minutes when his strike was fumbled by Paston before being cleared.
The visitors- pressure was rewarded when Roddy Vargas headed home at the near post from a Leigh Broxham corner in the 87th minute to ensure the competition points were shared.
Hearfield made the most of his call up to the starting side for the Phoenix, filling the gap left by Manny Muscat as he began the first of his three-game suspension picked up from last week.
The Phoenix-s next match is at FMG Stadium in Palmerston North against Sydney FC on Saturday. The Phoenix can make the Hyundai A-League-s undefeated home record their own with a win or draw in Palmerston North, ironically against the team they currently share that record with.