Wellington Phoenix 1
Melbourne Victory 1
So near, yet so far.
For the third time this season the Wellington Phoenix came extremely close to toppling the Melbourne Victory, but again had to settle for a draw with the defending champions.
In the end the 1-1 scoreline was probably the right result, in a thrilling encounter.
It was a match that had just about everything.
Some stunning attack, impressive defending, pure class from Japanese international Keisuke Honda, and a penalty.
There was even a sprawling save outside the box – by a Melbourne Victory defender – who was probably lucky only to receive a yellow card.
The Phoenix took the lead through Roy Krishna, but a Honda penalty ensured the third successive draw between these two teams this season.
It was a wonderful occasion, a world away from the last time the Phoenix ventured to Auckland.
Last season they barely drew 5,000 supporters to QBE Stadium, during that miserable campaign.
In contrast tonight 23,648 fans descended on Eden Park, to see the team that has become the talk of the A-League.
There were club colours from across Auckland, a vocal group of Krishna fans and the Yellow Fever encamped in the North stand.
Krishna, who was the obvious crowd favourite, looked dangerous early, while Sarpreet Singh almost carved open the Melbourne defence twice in the first 20 minutes with slide rule passes.
All that was missing was the final ball, or some real conviction in the shot, while the Victory defence did well to throw themselves in front of some dangerous attempts.
Liberato Cacace made some good inroads down the left, while Singh showed his trickery on the ball but was well marshalled.
Though Wellington shaded possession and territory, Victory had the better first half chances. Filip Kurto produced a wonderful point blank save to deny Kenjok Athiu early on, after a loose Andrew Durante touch had put the tall Victory striker in the clear.
Kosta Barbarouses also forced a reflex stop from Kurto and was a constant menace, showing the kind of form he was supposed to produce during his brief stint in Wellington.
The Phoenix's best chance fell to David Williams, but the former Socceroos striker screwed his shot wide from a Louis Fenton cutback.
Early in the second half Kurto produced another wonderful stop from a deflected Athiu shot, as the ball bent wickedly off Steven Taylor's outstretched leg.
After a period of Victory pressure, the Phoenix took the lead in the 57th minute through Krishna who reacted quickest to fire home on the half volley. The chance was made by Singh, twisting clear before firing in angled cross that was difficult to deal with.
The Fijian should have doubled the Phoenix advantage a few minutes later, after a swift counter attack, but Lawrence Thomas made an impressive stop at full stretch.
The flash point was the Victory penalty in the 68th minute, after Fenton and Krishna were adjudged to have felled Leigh Broxham in the box. It was a marginal call, but Honda put away the spot kick with the aplomb of someone who has played 97 times for AC Milan and across a decade for Japan.
There were chances aplenty at both ends in a frenetic finish, with the Victory hitting the post and the Phoenix spurning a couple of breakaways, but no decisive strike.
Wellington Phoenix 1 (R Krishna)
Melbourne Victory 1 (K Honda - pen)