Wellington Phoenix 1
Central Coast Mariners 1
So much for the Garden of Eden.
In front of a poor crowd in Auckland, the Wellington Phoenix's have been held to a disappointing 1-1 draw by the Central Coast Mariners.
The Phoenix created a ton of chances but simply couldn't finish and were ultimately frustrated by an Mariners side that offered little.
Ernie Merrick's side needed a 76th minute Roy Krishna goal to rescue a point, after the Australian side had opened the scoring in the first half.
Glen Moss won't enjoy watching the replay, as his mistake led to the Mariners goal.
These days the Phoenix have to deal with expectation. Expectation that they will win, and win well, which brings its own pressure. The team is flying at the moment - before this match only the Melbourne Victory had scored more goals - and they are playing with an attacking verve rarely seen in the Phoenix history.
It looked that would continue in this match, as the Phoenix - wearing a special strip to commemorate the latest Hobbit movie - cut through the Mariners' defence at will from the first whistle. At times it reminded from a scene from The Battle of the Five Armies, as the Phoenix laid siege to the Central Coast goal and the Australian side often defended with everyone behind the ball.
It wasn't pretty but you couldn't blame the Mariners; coming into this game they had only one win and just five goals and were scrapping for their lives.
The Phoenix could have - and probably should have - been two or three goals up in the first half hour. Louis Fenton was continually finding space on the right flank, while Roy Krishna was creating havoc with his late runs on the left. And Michael McGlinchey was in inspired form against his old side, months after the messy divorce, with his inventive passing and twisting runs.
But it came to nothing. Roly Bonevacia, Alex Rodriguez and Nathan Burns all wasted great chances, while former Phoenix keeper Liam Reddy was in inspired form against his old team.
The Mariners were limited to swift counter-attacks but gradually worked their way into the game, and in the 40th minute took a surprise lead. After Glen Moss couldn't handle a long range Nick Fitzgerald shot, Mariners striker Matt Watson reacted first to sweep in the rebound.
It felt like the Mariners had employed Muhammed Ali's famous`Rope a Dope' strategy and hit the Phoenix with a classic counter punch.
The New Zealand side were stunned by the setback but continued to dominate possession and territory. But as it often the case, the harder you try, the more difficult it seems to score.
McGlinchey scuffed a shot after good work by Fenton and Krishna - who was inundated by media attention during the build up and was watched by a sizeable Fijian presence in the crowd - couldn't find his range, wildly blazing over after being sent through by Manny Muscat.
It looked like the breakthrough would never come - even the accomplished Bonevacia lost the ball under his feet when set free in the area - before a piece of Krishna magic finally brought the crowd to their feet.
Pursuing a delightful McGlinchey chip, Krishna swept past his marker and in one motion brought the ball down and swept it past the onrushing Reddy.
Wellington Phoenix 1 (R. Krishna)
Central Coast Mariners 1 (M. Simon)