Phoenix roar back to grab deserved point

AS far as history goes, Wellington Phoenix FC’s gutsy effort to grab a Hyundai A-League 2009/20 point at the Suncorp Stadium cauldron was significant.

AS far as history goes, Wellington Phoenix FC-s gutsy effort to grab a Hyundai A-League 2009/20 point at the Suncorp Stadium cauldron was significant.

In head coach Ricki Herbert-s 50th match in charge of the New Zealand-based club, the 1-1 draw against the Brisbane Roar saw the Phoenix earn their first ever point in the Queensland capital in a match where the visitors were unlucky not to have taken all three.

Striker Chris Greenacre-s 85th-minute headed goal secured the valuable competition point in a clash the Phoenix dominated throughout bar a slow first quarter where the Roar were able to take an early lead through Sergio van Dijk.

It was an eventful and sometimes spiteful match, with the utterly dominated and under pressure hosts forced into committing a series of ugly and late fouls to contain the rampant Phoenix in the second half. Substitute Tommy Oar was marched for a second yellow card late in the match, with frustrated coach Frank Farina also ejected as the clock wound down. Roar bad boy Robbie Kruse was fortunate not to join Oar and his coach for an early shower following an horrifically amateurish and nasty challenge on Phoenix striker Leo Bertos in injury time.

But for all the niggle – and the sapping 27-Celsius mid-afternoon heat – the Phoenix were a class above. Despite the satisfaction of taking their first point at Suncorp in three seasons of the Hyundai A-League, the Phoenix were rightly disappointed not to have kicked on for the win.

“In hindsight that was a match we should-ve won,” Herbert said. “We played very well and we knew we had that sort of performance coming. Sure, there were aspects of the performance that still need work but, once we put the full one together, who knows what we-re capable of.”

Van Dijk-s early scrambled goal, while well-worked, was no reflection of how the match played out. The Roar were completely dominated for at least 70 minutes of the match and the Phoenix-s continual pressure eventually reaped rewards when substitute Daniel laid on a pinpoint cross for British striker Greenacre to wonderfully nod past Roar keeper Liam Reddy for his second goal in three matches.

“I thought we had them exposed on several occasions and we certainly dictated play for the majority of the match,” Herbert said. “It really did seem that we were going to press on and take the win and I was confident in those closing stages that with another decent set play we could-ve taken the points.”

Kruse almost offered up the winning opportunity in injury time, the youngster making a clumsy two-footed challenge on Bertos in the Roar corner. Television replays clearly showed the stupidity and dangerousness of the challange, but the Phoenix were unable to convert from the resulting free kick. Thankfully, Bertos was not badly injured in the incident and Kruse was hugely fortunate to remain on the park.

Herbert-s canny use of his substitutes was top-shelf. The classy Daniel added fresh legs and creativity, laying on the wonderful cross for Greenacre-s equaliser, while Vinnie Lia added some competitive mongrel as the punch-drunk Roar looked to scrap their way out of trouble off the ropes. Troy Hearfield came on in the dying stages and did his job admirably in the place of impressive English striker Paul Ifill, whose tireless work up front caused constant headaches for the Roar-s midfield and back four.

“The relationship between Paul, Chris and Leo up front is coming together well,” said Herbert. “We changed things in the second half, pushing Paul up with Chris and that changed things significantly. But bringing in Daniel worked exceptionally well and he deserves a huge amount of credit for what he brought to the attacking mix.”

However, he admitted another slow Phoenix start was a concern.

“Two words – tighten up. That-s what we need to do if we-re going to be a finals team. We conceded an early goal and that-s football sometimes, but it is a concern for us. It happened against Newcastle and Perth and we need to be better. While it-s testament to the ability of this team to fight our way back into matches, we can-t keep chasing things.”

The Phoenix now have four competition points, with a one win, one draw and one loss. Their next match is away to Sydney United on August 30.