Smeltz on the spot for valuable point

IT might not have been the historic away win the Wellington Phoenix were hoping for but the 2-2 away draw with the Newcastle Jets was the next best thing.

Seeking back-to-back victories for the first time in the club-s short history, the Phoenix went into the round seven match at EnergyAustralia Stadium on a high after disposing of Hyundai A-League 2008/09 frontrunners Sydney FC the previous week.

And for a long time the Phoenix again looked the goods for the three points, having dominated much of the match only to be behind as the clock wound down.

Ultimately it was left to super-striker Shane Smeltz to secure a vital competition point courtesy of superbly taken 89th-minute penalty, the super-striker-s second successful spot kick cancelling out the Jets- fortuitous and somewhat dubious double.

While Ricki Herbert could have been forgiven for lamenting sharing the spoils in a match his side had the better of, the Phoenix head coach instead took a pragmatic outlook on an entertaining and free-flowing match.

It was a committed, industrious and gutsy performance from the men from Wellington, a pleasing effort to follow up the win against Sydney the previous week.

“We showed what we can do and played for long periods the way we know we can,” Herbert said. “I-m thrilled that the guys kept coming when we were down late in the game and never threw in the towel.”

However, the Phoenix mentor admitted to concern that his men seemed to switch off at key times, allowing the Jets back into the game. With Smeltz-s first penalty handing them the lead in the 52nd minute after Vaughan Coveny was bowled in the Newcastle box, the Jets struck back against the run of play seven minutes later when Tarek Elrich-s speculative shot took a mean deflection and looped over Phoenix keeper Mark Paston.

“When we got out noses in front we could have been better at keeping things tight and shutting them down,” Herbert said. “We went off the boil a wee bit and let them back into the game and against a team like the Jets that-s something you can never afford to do.”

Sure enough, things looked grim for the Phoenix in the 68th minute when Kaz Patafta tapped in to hand the Jets the lead. Despite television replays clearly showing Jets striker Edmundo Zura offside from a long ball before laying the ball off to Patafta, the goal stood and the Jets looked set for an unlikely victory.

“It-s hard to argue against those sorts of things because those are the things you can-t control,” Herbert said.

But what the Phoenix could control was their own destiny and a sustained period of pressure brought results when Leilei Gao was clumsily brought down in the Jets- penalty area by Matt Thompson with regular time all but up.

Smeltz-s sweetly struck penalty levelled the scores before the heavens opened just minutes later and referee Craig Zetter called time, the Phoenix snaring a key point on the road.

“We came here to win but to get a point is something and we-ve laid the platform to move forward,” Herbert said. “The players have got that spring back in their step and that confidence and belief is growing all the time.

“We-re showing we-re back to where we should be, but we do need to continue building in some areas. It was a good all-round performance but we can do better.”

The Phoenix-s next match is against the Central Coast Mariners at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford on Sunday, October 19 following the Fifa international break.

Newcastle Jets 2 (Tarek Elrich 59-, Kaz Patafta 68-)
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Shane Smeltz 52-(pen)/89-(pen))

EnergyAustralia Stadium, Newcastle
Monday, 6 October 2008
Craig Zetter
Assistant Referees: Murray Wilson & Aaron Strickland
Fourth Official: Stuart Wolfe
Crowd: 8492

Newcastle Jets lineup: 1.Ante COVIC (gk), 3.Jade NORTH (C), 6.Jesper HAKANSSON, 8.Matt THOMPSON, 10.Jin-Hyung SONG (17.Antun KOVACIC 90-),11.Tarek ELRICH, 12.Jobe WHEELHOUSE, 13.Adam D-APUZZO, 18.Noel SPENCER (7.Kaz PATAFTA 57-), 23.Edmundo ZURA (24.Marko JESIC 72-), 25.Daniel PIORKOWSKI.

Substitutes Not Used:20.Ben KENNEDY (gk).

Yellow Cards: Noel Spencer 19-, Jesper Hakansson 45-, Tarek Elrich 49-.

Red Cards: Nil

Wellington Phoenix lineup: 1.Mark PASTON (gk), 3.Tony LOCHHEAD, 5.Karl DODD, 6.Tim BROWN, 8.Vaughan COVENY (10.Michael FERRANTE 67-), 9.Shane SMELTZ, 12.Richard JOHNSON, 15.Adam KWASNIK (11.DANIEL 70-), 18.Ben SIGMUND (2.Jeremy CHRISTIE 67-), 21.Leilei GAO, 22.Andrew DURANTE (C).

Substitutes Not Used: 30.Phil IMRAY (gk)

Yellow Cards: Nil

Red Cards: Nil