Wellington Phoenix 1
Adelaide United 1
The venue was different but the outcome all too familiar for the Wellington Phoenix, as they drew 1-1 with Adelaide at Eden Park today.
In the first game at the stadium since the Rugby World Cup final, a late own goal from Adelaide defender Nigel Boogaard earned the Phoenix a point, but it wasn't enough to lift the the capital-based side from second bottom on the A-League ladder.
All Blacks 8 France 7, this wasn't. But it was a relatively entertaining affair for the record crowd that attended and, thanks to Boogaard, the fans were sent home on a positive note.
For the team, a home draw to a side one spot above them in the league will be less than satisfying but, for the front office, the 20-000-plus paying customers will make the result a lot easier to swallow.
The main talking point during the week was whether the Auckland sporting public would turn up in force for their first A-League game since the dark days of the New Zealand Knights.
In force they were. In fact, the 20,078 fans that filled Eden Park's lower levels was an all-time record attendance for a regular-season Phoenix home game, eclipsing the mark previously held by Christchurch's AMI Stadium.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert was effusive in his praise for the Auckland public and said he was just glad his side managed to reward them with the late equaliser.
"It's two club teams playing football - it's not national teams - so 20,000 is fantastic," he said. "It's nice we contributed to it in the end."
The Phoenix enjoyed the best of the first half without creating too many goal-scoring opportunities but Bruce Djite put the visitors into the lead right on the whistle. The American-born Australian international was put through by a clever chipped ball from Dario Vidosic and made no mistake in poking the ball past Wellington keeper Tony Warner as the pair collided.
Herbert praised his side's performance in the first half and said they were unlucky to be behind at the break.
"We were really competitive and well in control. And to get hit with a ball behind - probably their first - was really disappointing."
The Phoenix didn't look like recovering from that bitter blow during the opening stages of the second half so Herbert rolled the dice on Paul Ifill's groin, as he replaced American midfielder Alex Smith for his first appearance in five weeks.
The Phoenix coach defended his decision not to include the game-changing striker from the start and said Ifill came out of the cameo in good shape.
"It just panned out to be right, really. I think 30 minutes is probably where he's at."
Despite the introduction of the Barbados international, Wellington continued to look lost, often struggling to string together more than three passes before surrendering possession. Ifill showed flashes of brilliance but it wasn't enough to seriously threaten Galekovic's goal.
Adelaide could have secured the three points in the 80th minute but Vidosic botched a two-on-one, sending a cross meant for Djite to the opposite sideline instead.
The lesson learned in the first half by the Phoenix about taking chances was soon reversed, with Wellington securing a point in the 82nd minute thanks to a moment Boogaard would rather soon forget.
Ifill was fed the ball was on the right wing, before delivering a delicious cross to the near post that the Adelaide defender, under pressure from a rampaging Ben Sigmund, could only flick past Galekovic and into his own net.
From the moment the ball nestled in the far corner of the Adelaide's goal, there was only one team in it. The Phoenix piled on the pressure, looking the liveliest they had all game, but it was too little too late and the spoils were shared.
WELLINGTON PHOENIX 1 (Nigel Boogaard 84m og) drew ADELAIDE UNITED 1 (Bruce Djite 45m) at Eden Park. Crowd: 20,078. Referee: Peter Green.
- APNZBy Kris Shannon