The future of the Wellington Phoenix was on show as they earned a well-deserved 1-1 draw with Hyundai A-League leaders Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Mariners aren-t top of the table by accident. They had won eight of their 11 games going into Saturday, losing only one, scoring the most goals in the competition and conceding the least.
They had also won their last five meetings with the Phoenix so it was always going to be a tough assignment for the Wellington side.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert showed his intention of taking the game to the Mariners by giving 17-year-old Tyler Boyd his first start on one flank with another speedy teenager, Louis Fenton, on the other.
The first half was fairly even but the Phoenix were stunned right on the half-time whistle when the league-s leading scorer Danny McBreen netted his 10th of the season from close range after goalkeeper Mark Paston could only palm away a firm shot.
Rather than feel sorry for themselves, the Phoenix stuck to their game plan of moving the ball quickly and the pace and enthusiasm of Boyd and Fenton, along with the speed and trickery of substitute Benji Totori, kept the Mariners defence on their toes.
It was no more than the Phoenix deserved when Dani Sanchez, playing his second game back after a long-term injury, headed the equalising goal from a Totori cross in the 84th minute.
Herbert was pleased to get a point from the game and had special mention for Boyd and Fenton.
“I am really pleased to get something from the game because we deserved it,” Herbert said.
Asked to assess Boyd-s contribution in his first start, Herbert described him as “a terrific young player”.
“He has got all the attributes and you can compare him with any young boy in the competition.
“But it wasn-t just about them (young boys). Everyone was top drawer tonight.
“It is good to have Dani back after his injury because he is technically different.
“You have the likes of Flores, Rogic and Vidosic. Dani is our No 10 if you like and he will only get better with more game time.”
The only disappointment for Herbert was the quality of crossing both from open play and set pieces.
“It wasn-t at the right level,” he said. “Too often we didn-t beat the front man to give ourselves more goal scoring opportunities.
“Overall though we made a good statement tonight and in the youngsters you saw the future of this club.”