Soccer: Phoenix earn point

By Daniel Richardson

Luke Rowe of the Phoenix is challenged by Fred of the Heart during the round two A-League match between the Melbourne Heart and the Wellington Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images.
Luke Rowe of the Phoenix is challenged by Fred of the Heart during the round two A-League match between the Melbourne Heart and the Wellington Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images.

With a squad full of youngsters and their fourth-string goalkeeper the Wellington Phoenix managed to battle to an admirable 1-1 draw against the Melbourne Heart today.

Wellington were always going to be up against it as they were robbed of seven players - including six from their starting line-up from last week's 2-0 season-opening victory over Sydney FC - due to international commitments.

Head coach Ricki Herbert was also unavailable for the A-League clash due the balancing act he conducts with the All Whites, so assistant coach Chris Greenacre took charge from the dugout.

Phoenix goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley, who only joined the club on a short-term deal from Auckland City to cover the loss of All Whites Mark Paston and Glen Moss, was handed the starting role after 18-year-old schoolboy Scott Basalaj wasn't deemed fit to play.

Spoonley spent a year on the books of the Phoenix in their inaugural season and although he never managed to get on the field in his first stint with the club the one-cap All White looked assured today and could be seen again with the side in the future.

During the opening exchanges the Heart assumed control of the contest and were duly rewarded after 20 minutes when Matt Thompson finished off a counter-attacking move down the left when he hammered the ball home from the top of the box.

The Phoenix were forced to field four debutants, while Vince Lia, who had only played 45 minutes in the pre-season, had to fill in at right back and was caught out at times as his lack of match-fitness showed.

Wellington struggled to string together lengthy spells of possession as they lacked combinations and their disjointed line-up failed to flow.

Despite their early dominance, Melbourne only took a 1-0 lead in to the half-time break as the Phoenix fought back as inspirational skipper Andrew Durante was superb in defence, while Michael Boxall was also solid.

The game changed shortly in to the second half when Heart centre back Simon Colosimo handled the ball on the line as Alex Smith looked assured to have tapped in a goal from close range.

Colosimo's indiscretion saw him cop a red card for his troubles and the Phoenix were awarded a penalty.

Paul Ifill, who is so often the provider of something special for the Phoenix since his arrival from England in 2009, made no mistake from the spot as he sent Heart keeper Clint Bolton the wrong way and Wellington drew level.

The goal galvanised the Phoenix who began to believe they could make their mark on the game despite the youthful look of their starting XI.

Although Wellington enjoyed a sustained period of pressure on attack during the middle of the second spell they couldn't find the killer blow but the result would be pleasing for Herbert and Co who avoided any major damage on the scoreboard.

Melbourne Heart 1 (Matt Thompson 20') Wellington Phoenix 1 (Paul Ifill 48') HT: 1-0

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