Wellington Phoenix 1
Adelaide United 1
A rare penalty miss from the usually reliable Ulises Davila has denied the Phoenix all three points – and a chance to lock in a playoff spot - in their latest A-League encounter against Adelaide United. Regardless, an undermanned Wellington side have moved to second on the competition table after a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Bankwest Stadium.
Davila had converted all five of his previous spot kicks this season, but his weak 86th minute effort was comfortably saved by Adelaide goalkeeper Paul Izzo to earn his side a share of the points. The result takes the Phoenix to 40 points, level with Melbourne City but with a better goal difference and three games each to play. The point was even more noteworthy given it was achieved without a number of key players for some or all of the contest.
As signalled after the 2-1 win over Perth on Wednesday, coach Ufuk Talay significantly shuffled his playing deck for a third game in eight days, making six changes. Youngsters Sam Sutton and Callan Elliot started for the first time with Brandon Wilson, Alex Rufer, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Jaushua Sotirio all coming in to the eleven.
Regular starters Luke DeVere, David Ball and Cam Devlin were rested with Matti Steinmann suspended. Liam McGing replaced captain Steven Taylor at halftime, meaning of Wellington's 20 available outfield players, only Walter Scott hasn't seen game time in the first three post-Covid matches.
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Perhaps as a result of the vastly altered personnel, Wellington's slick, cohesive passing game was down a notch from their previous two outings. With the first-choice pair of Devlin and Steinmann absent, Wellington's effectiveness through central midfield was blunted but childhood Phoenix fan Sutton, still just 18, had a tidy starting debut, getting involved in the physical exchanges and not being overawed by the occasion.
By contrast, Adelaide coach Carl Veart made just one injury-enforced change as the sixth-placed Reds looked to open a buffer over the chasing playoff pack. His side were noticeably more productive in the first half, their best chance coming in the 41st minute when Norwegian striker Norwegian striker Kristian Opseth's flying header was tipped over by Stefan Marinovic.
The game's opening goal came after an hour from the same source. After a 40-metre run down Adelaide's right-flank, Ben Halloran delivered a pinpoint cross to Opseth who stole between three static Phoenix defenders to guide a neat header past Marinovic. But the lead lasted less than five minutes with Sotirio running onto a delicious through ball from Reno Piscopo and after being denied by Izzo at the first attempt, tucked away the rebound to square the ledger.
Davila almost scored a spectacular winner in the 75th minute, his curling cross-come-shot tipped onto the crossbar by Izzo and cleared to safety. In fact, Wellington finished the game strongest and would have claimed all three points but for an excellent performance from Izzo, including his penalty save.
The Phoenix now have almost a week to recover ahead of their next game against Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday. Talay has signalled he'll select his strongest eleven from now on as the business end of the season looms.
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Sotirio 65')
Adelaide United 1 (Opseth 60')