Soccer: Phoenix B in A grade performance

By Terry Maddaford

Band of battlers show great heart in Melbourne to gain courageous draw.

Phoenix player Jimmy Downey (right) puts pressure on the Heart's Richard Garcia yesterday. Photo / Getty Images
Phoenix player Jimmy Downey (right) puts pressure on the Heart's Richard Garcia yesterday. Photo / Getty Images

Heart 1
Phoenix 1

The ragtag mob masquerading as Wellington Phoenix B went close to pulling off the impossible with a battling draw with Melbourne Heart.

At halftime the odds-makers had the makeshift Wellington line-up as 15 to one shots in the earlier of the two Hyundai A-League games played yesterday. Within a minute those odds would have been slashed as first they drew level and then enjoyed a period of domination in which they did everything but score.

In the 20 minutes after the interval the Phoenix played 14 balls into the Heart penalty area while the home side managed just one at the other end. The only blot on the Phoenix effort was their failure to convert at least one of those chances.

But that was only a minor criticism of a team cobbled together to tackle the John Aloisi-coached Heart side who had scored an epic first-up win over bitter rivals Melbourne Victory.

Both teams ran out at AAMI Park with eyes firmly set on top spot. For that reason alone, it was always going to be a battle. Inside 20 minutes the home side caught the Phoenix with a blistering counter-attack. Aziz Behich charged from deep and wide, looked up and played a good ball to his captain Fred who, in turn, rolled it deftly to Matt Thompson who unleashed a shot which gave goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley no chance.

Stung, the much-rearranged Phoenix - with Tom Biss, Spoonley, Michael Boxall and Luke Rowe given A-League debuts and veterans Vince Lia and Paul Ifill their first starts of the season - struggled for a time as the hosts went after the killer blow.

In weathering that storm, the visitors reached the break without further damage.

A minute after the restart the Phoenix won a right-wing corner which Rowe sent into the mixer. Alex Smith got his raised foot to the ball steering it goalwards only to see it flicked over the crossbar by an errant Simon Colosimo hand.

Referee Kris Griffiths-Jones had no option but to point to the spot and send Colosimo packing.

Ifill wasted little time in converting from the spot to signal game on.

For those next 20 minutes the greenhorns in the Phoenix colours mounted wave after wave of attacks with Louis Fenton, Biss, Rowe and, when given his chance, Tyler Boyd asking plenty of questions of their vastly more experienced opponents.

Ifill attempted a couple of lobs over Clint Bolton but the best chance of the half fell to former Phoenix striker Dylan Macallister who was certain he had found the 78th minute winner until Boxall heroically raced back to clear off the line.

The dominance enjoyed by the Phoenix was reflected in the corner count which was 2-1 in Heart's favour at the break but switched to 7-3 in the visitors' favour by the end.

The Phoenix won plenty of admirers for coping with the raw deal handed them by football bosses across the Tasman in insisting the game be played no matter that seven Phoenix players were absent on international duty. By contrast, the Victory lost three players but slumped to one of their worst-ever results in being thrashed 5-0 by Brisbane Roar.

- NZ Herald

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