Soccer: Phoenix scrap to set unbeaten record

Phoenix 2
Melbourne 2

Nick Ward of the Phoenix jumps to block a pass by Simon Colosimo. Photo / Getty Images
Nick Ward of the Phoenix jumps to block a pass by Simon Colosimo. Photo / Getty Images

Tinkering with the formation did not work but in the end the Wellington Phoenix clawed their way back from a one-goal halftime deficit to finish equal with Melbourne Heart and claim the record for the longest unbeaten run in a major soccer competition in this part of the world.

"It's locked in the cupboard and it's something we can all be proud of," said Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert. "It's probably going to be pretty hard to beat I'd suggest."

But for a time after they conceded a second goal in 22 minutes to fall 1-2 behind, the Phoenix struggled.

In the end, they claimed a point with a well-taken Leo Bertos curler to end the day on 11 points in sixth place, ahead of Perth Glory and the Heart on goal difference.

Coach Ricki Herbert would have been happy with claiming a record of 24 straight unbeaten outings at Westpac Stadium - to better by one the mark set from 1996-99 by Sydney United in the old National Soccer League at the Sydney United Sports centre - but he will have reservations when he looks back at the tape of the game.

Given a dream start when Chris Greenacre ran on to a defence-splitting ball from midfielder Tim Brown to open the scoring inside six minutes, the Phoenix then gave up that lead when Manny Muscat brought down Adrian Zahara to concede a penalty which John Aloisi thumped under the diving Mark Paston to equalise.

Struggling, it appeared, to master Herbert's switch to a three-at-the-back defensive unit, Troy Hearfield was simply an onlooker as Matt Thompson also turned Ben Sigmund inside out before beating Paston after 36 minutes.

The visitors retained that one-goal lead at the break but with Herbert ringing the changes at halftime - Mirjan Pavlovic and Vince Lia on for Jade North and Nicky Ward (and reverting to the more conventional four at the back) - the urgency returned.

The home side forced two early corners to put the Heart under pressure.

Thirteen minutes into the spell that endeavour was justly rewarded when Muscat deftly back-heeled to Bertos who, with a combination of a favourable breeze and a curling shot deceived Clint Bolton in the Heart goal and was quick to celebrate the equaliser and his third goal of the season.

Six minutes later Bertos snapped a shot out of nothing forcing Bolton to throw himself at the ball and push away for a corner.

The remaining 25 minutes produced no more than scant half chances as the teams held out for a point each.

Heart coach John Van't Schip felt the draw was probably a fair reflection of the game.

"Once it got to 2-2 it could have gone either way. We had a few opportunities ... but the final touch just wasn't there," he said. "On the other hand they were also dangerous on the break so I think the result is the right one."

- NZ Herald

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