Soccer: Merrick still waiting on first win

By Kris Shannon

Andrew Durante bundled home the opening goal as the Phoenix drew 1-1 with Perth in Christchurch today. Photo / Getty
Andrew Durante bundled home the opening goal as the Phoenix drew 1-1 with Perth in Christchurch today. Photo / Getty

Phoenix 1
Glory 1

Ernie Merrick remained frustrated in his search for a maiden victory with the Phoenix but today's draw would have left the man he replaced more than satisfied.

Ricki Herbert had particular reason to pay attention to his former club's clash with Perth, with no fewer than five All Whites involved ahead of next week's pivotal match against Mexico.

The troupe of internationals all emerged unscathed from the 1-1 stalemate against Perth - which left the Phoenix without a win from five games - before dashing off to Christchurch airport to begin the long journey to Los Angeles ahead of Thursday's World Cup qualifier.

The health of Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund was especially important to Herbert's cause after Winston Reid's withdrawal earlier in the week, and both men defended well throughout to keep quiet a Perth attack featuring All Whites teammate Shane Smeltz.

Durante even managed a rare goal in his record-breaking 132nd appearance for the Phoenix, putting his side ahead after four minutes with a third career strike.

Smeltz was replaced early in the second spell after showing some nice touches in his second match since returning from injury.

His Glory teammates rebounded from conceding for the first time since round one, snapping a streak of three straight clean sheets, with Ryo Nagai finding the equaliser in what was at times a dour encounter.

An uneventful first half saw neither goalkeeper called upon to make a genuine save and required only to pick the ball out of the back of the net.

The Phoenix began positively and were rewarded for their efforts inside five minutes. After Stein Huysegems was brought down to the left of the area, Danny Vukovic found himself in no-man's land as Carlos Hernandez's free kick slipped through to Durante, who applied an unorthodox but effective finish at the far post.

The Glory grew into the game as the half wore on and were applying particular pressure on Louis Fenton at right break, the channel which produced an equaliser on the half hour.

Fenton was caught pressing high and Sidnei Sciola Moraes was released down the left, making his way into the penalty area and waiting for Ben Sigmund to go to ground before squaring to Nagai to apply the finishing touch.

Though they spent more time in the opposing half, the Phoenix were continually struggling for either a final ball or a shot on target, exemplified through some wayward set pieces following their early success.

Merrick had evidently seen enough from Fenton in the first half, dragging him off at halftime for Jason Hicks and shifting Manny Muscat to right back. The Maltese international was far more capable dealing with the threat of Sidnei, using his strength well to negate the Brazilian's influence.

And Merrick could have been made to look like a mastermind had Hicks made use of a golden opportunity in a game with few of them, but the midfielder sliced his shot well wide after Brockie's cross found him in space.

Paul Ifill was soon summoned from the bench for his 100th match for the club, making an immediate influence by showing a more direct approach and taking on the Perth defenders. One such run brought about a free kick to give Sigmund a chance to replicate his late heroics from Wellington's last match in Christchurch, but this time his header was narrowly wide.

The Phoenix were almost made to pay for the pair of misses, only for Jamie Maclaren to blaze over from a tough angle after rounding Glen Moss, the last real opportunity to pinch the points.

Phoenix 1 (Durante 3)
Glory 1 (Nagai 29)
HT: 1-1


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