Soccer: Aucklanders get to see two sides of the Phoenix

By Terry Maddaford

Wellington's Nicholas Ward (with the ball) is challenged by Adelaide's Francisco Usucar during their match at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images
Wellington's Nicholas Ward (with the ball) is challenged by Adelaide's Francisco Usucar during their match at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images

Soccer is a team game, but the Wellington Phoenix needed a tick over 30 minutes of the 1-1 draw with Adelaide United to again realise that success or failure may in fact revolve around one player.

In the 32 minutes that Paul Ifill played off the bench, the Phoenix were a different side. Their mojo was back, and what had been a pretty ho-hum affair came to life with the very real feeling the Phoenix could salvage something from a predictable, somewhat dour, midfield battle.

Ifill, who was injured in the team's first-up 1-1 draw on the Gold Coast early last month and lasted just 15 minutes of a too hasty return for the 4-0 home win over the Newcastle Jets a week later, had four weeks on the sideline nursing a torn tendon.

He could only watch in frustration as the Phoenix slumped to a 1-0 loss in Perth and then unprecedented back-to-back losses to Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium - before bouncing back for a 1-1 away draw with the rampant Roar.

With Ifill out, the Wellington club picked up just one point and scored three goals. In his 30 minutes on Saturday, he contributed to the goal which gained them a point.

Goal-scoring is the showy side to the 32-year-old English-born Barbados international's game - he scored 12 in 27 regular-season games in the 2009-10 A-League season - but his contribution goes far deeper.

His mere presence in the latter stages brought the 20,000-plus crowd back into the contest. With the clock running down, the Phoenix grabbed possession in the middle of the park, and Chris Greenacre picked out Ifill, who zipped a ball towards the Adelaide goal. Ben Sigmund charged to put pressure on central defender Nigel Boogard.

In his diving attempt to head wide for a corner, Boogard succeeded in only firing the ball away from stranded goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic and into the bottom corner of the Adelaide net for the first own-goal by any A-League team this season.

Earlier, the visitors had taken the 44th minute lead when they swept down field and caught the Phoenix defence square. Dario Vidosic flicked the ball on to Bruce Djite, who rode Andrew Durante's challenge to plant the ball in the Phoenix goal as he crashed into goalkeeper Tony Warner.

There were other half chances, but few really clear-cut opportunities in a match which was too often a stop-start affair as referee Peter Green seemed intent on whistling the life out of it.

It was Adelaide's first point on the road this season. Coach Rini Coolen said, "It [a draw] was very tough to take. I thought we deserved to win.

"We controlled almost the whole game and had opportunities to score."

That they did not was again credit to the settled back-five coach Ricki Herbert was able to put out.

Sigmund probably went away as the man of the match, but Manny Muscat and Andrew Durante were not far behind.

The Phoenix again failed to convert set-play opportunities, scoring none from nine corners - six in the opening 13 minutes - and overall had only three shots to Adelaide's six.

"I thought we weren't bad," was Herbert's initial summation. "They dug deep and it was good to take something from it."

But he, and the fans, will be looking for more collectively and from Ifill when they return to Westpac Stadium on Sunday to play Sydney FC.

LAST MINUTE RUSH FOR TICKETS LEAVES FANS STRANDED

Last-minute rushes to get into sporting fixtures are nothing new in Auckland.

The pressure brought to bear by the walk-up crowd for the Wellington Phoenix match with Adelaide United at Eden Park on Saturday brought howls of protests from those who missed the kick-off and, in some cases, a chunk of the first half.

The scenes of people queuing outside the gates brought back memories of November 1964 when Peter Snell announced he would attempt the world record for the 1000m at Western Springs on a Wednesday.

The chance to see the double Olympic champion in action at home for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics evoked pandemonium outside the gate as a huge crowd flocked to the stadium.

Then Auckland Athletic Centre president Frank Sharp was seen stuffing five pound notes into his pockets as the crowd swarmed in to catch a glimpse of their hero. But they did get in.

Fast-forward nearly 50 years and things have changed. Or have they?

The Phoenix and Eden Park authorities implored fans to buy tickets early and offered cut-price incentives.

While there were - in the Herald at least - predictions of a 20,000-strong crowd, Aucklanders were prepared to take their chances. At their peril.

With 4000 spectators piling through the gates in the hour before kick-off, it was apparent that something had to give and, yes, some were left stranded.

Phoenix marketing manager David Dome admitted they had been caught short: "We apologise for those who missed the start of the game, but all the ticket booths were open ... No one who had pre-purchased a ticket missed the kick-off."

Therein lies the lesson.

- NZ Herald

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