Soccer: Phoenix show plenty of Heart in Melbourne

Paul Ifill of the Phoenix is chased Wayne Srhoj of the Heart during the round 23 A-League match between the Melbourne Heart and the Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Ifill of the Phoenix is chased Wayne Srhoj of the Heart during the round 23 A-League match between the Melbourne Heart and the Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park. Photo / Getty Images

One of Ben Sigmund's ambitions is to score with his feet before he finishes his A-League career but it would take something special to eclipse the one scored by Paul Ifill on Saturday night.

Ifill smacked a 20m screamer past Melbourne Heart goalkeeper Clint Bolton in the 80th minute to help the Phoenix to a 1-1 draw. He hit the ball first time from just outside the box and it rifled past Bolton, who had been largely unemployed for the previous 80 minutes.

Sigmund has scored five goals in his A-League career, all with his head and said: "One of my goals is to score with my feet before I retire.''

The centre-back did plenty of defending with them on Saturday night as the Heart took the game to Wellington. Only a combination of some wasteful finishing, good goalkeeping from Mark Paston (and Tony Lochhead who parried one around the post) and scrambling defence kept the home side to a solitary goal and the Phoenix made them pay with Ifill's late strike.

It wasn't the result either side wanted. Wellington are chasing a place in the top two, and a shot at the direct route to the grand final, and Melbourne were hoping to secure a home semifinal by finishing the regular season third or fourth. Wellington are third, two points behind Brisbane - the Roar have the chance to move further ahead when they host Adelaide this evening - and three points ahead of fourth-placed Perth who are due to meet leaders Central Coast tonight.

Crucially, they maintained their five-point advantage over Melbourne Heart in fifth and need only another point from their final two games to guarantee a home semifinal.

"It wasn't a bad result, to be honest,'' Sigmund said. "It could have been worse. You take that point and run. At least we are still five points ahead of Melbourne Heart.

"That point helps because if we had lost it could have been a lot worse. Considering how poorly we played in the first half, we could have been two or three down. To be only one goal down at halftime and to come back, I think it shows the character in this side. We could have actually pinched it as well.''

Melbourne dominated the first half with some quick counter-attacking and fluid ball movement. They created a host of chances and were rewarded with a goal to Eli Babalj in the 32nd minute when he nodded home a free-kick.

It was a soft goal to concede in the context of the half but Wellington responded well in the second half. They pushed higher up the pitch, pressuring the ball, and had a more even share of possession.

They certainly refused to yield and that was no better illustrated than when a scuffle broke out involving every player on the pitch except both goalkeepers after Andrew Durante went in hard on Jonatan Germano just before the break. Sigmund was at the centre of the action and picked up a yellow card for his troubles.

"I will always look after all the boys,'' he said. "Dura was isolated so I thought I would get a few boys out the way. I think that's what you do as a team. We are a good bunch of boys and we look after each other. To be fair, it was good to see all the boys come in and help each other out. It was only handbags. It wasn't anything serious.''

Wellington remain in Melbourne, where they will meet the Victory on Friday night. A win in Victoria has eluded the Phoenix in 10 games in the state but they are confident after winning four and drawing another of their last six away games.

And they also have Paul Ifill.

- APNZ

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