Water-polo in Wellington as honours shared

IT RAINED goals at Westpac Stadium on Friday night as the Wellington Phoenix opened their Hyundai A-League 2010/11 campaign with a 3-3 draw against Gold Coast United in wet and difficult playing conditions.

Played in front of an 8398-strong crowd, the weather could not dampen the spirits of the home side for much of the match, but the visitors did with an 87th-minute equaliser after the Phoenix had held a 3-1 lead 10 minutes into the second half.

The Phoenix had to work hard for their one competition point, earned on the back of a dogged team effort spearheaded by a Chris Greenacre brace and a Paul Ifill special.

The Phoenix got off to a perfect start in the sixth minute when, from a Leo Bertos cross, Ifill controlled the ball at the top of the penalty box before sending a left-foot strike past Gold Coast goalkeeper Glen Moss.

Gold Coast-s Zenon Caravella almost levelled before the hometown fans resumed their seats – his right-foot drive from distance hitting Phoenix goalkeeper Mark Paston-s left-hand post.

The persistent rain began making a mark midway through the first half as the ball either held up or skidded on and the players struggled to retain their feet. Gold Coast defender Dino Djulbic was yellow carded for deliberate handball in the 17th minute and moments later Paston congratulated by teammates for getting a hand to deflect a strike on goal from the visitors.

The Gold Coast deserved their equaliser in the 36th minute when former hometown hero Shane Smeltz headed home from a perfectly weighted Jason Culina freekick. But their celebrations barely lasted a minute as the Phoenix regained the lead courtesy of Greenacre, who tapped home from close range. From a corner the ball ricocheted off players before finding Tim Brown-s head inside the six-yard box and then Greenacre-s boot.

Joel Porter missed a golden chance to equalise for the visitors early in the second stanza when he rounded Paston but delayed his shot into an empty net long enough for Ben Sigmund to clear to safety.

The Phoenix took control of the match in the 55th minute when Greenacre balanced beautifully to volley home from close range after latching on to a deflection from Dylan Macallister following a quickly taken free kick.

Paston was on hand on the hour to combine with his left post, the conditions and then a desperate parry while on the ground for Smeltz to be twice denied.

However, Smeltz bagged his brace with 16 minutes remaining when he slotted home after a penetrating run by Culina into the Phoenix penalty area.

Greenacre, with a deflected header on goal, and Ifill, with a strike across the face of the goal, came close to securing the win before Gold Coast pressed again and equalised in the 87th minute through a pinpoint Culina header.

The Phoenix-s next game is against the Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium on Sunday, August 22.