Phoenix snag a draw against Heart
A depleted Wellington Phoenix side came from behind to claim a point in a 1-1 draw against a 10-man Melbourne Heart outfit at AAMI Park on Sunday.
In front of a good crowd of 10,907, the Heart dominated the first half and took the lead when a brilliant 60-yard run from Aziz Behich down the left flank ended in a Matt Thompson goal.
John Aloisi's side failed to capitalise on a series of chances to double their lead though, and they were made to pay when – after Simon Colosimo was sent off for a deliberate handball just two minutes into the second half – Paul Ifill levelled from the penalty spot.
The Phoenix were missing six players who started last week's 2-0 win over Sydney FC, with Mark Paston, Tony Lochhead, Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos, Jeremy Brockie and Benjamin Totori all on international duty while Wellington and New Zealand coach, Ricki Herbert, was absent for the same reason.
Goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley signed a short-term deal from Auckland City just to play while Ifill, James Downey, Vince Lia, Luke Rowe and Thomas Biss were drafted into the starting line-up by stand-in Wellington coach Chris Greenacre.
And despite David Williams being ruled out with gastro – Croatian Josip Tadic replaced him in Heart's starting side –Aloisi's side entered the match as strong favourites.
Both sides made a slow start and Wellington could have taken a shock lead after 15 minutes when Thompson was stripped of the ball by the lively Biss just 20 yards from goal.
Heart goalkeeper Clint Bolton was quick to react and charged off his line to deny the opportunity before the hosts started to dominate the game.
Tadic was the first to test Spoonley, shooting straight at the goalkeeper, before Heart took the lead thanks to a brilliant goal from Thompson on 20 minutes.
Behich ended his mazy run with a cut-back to Fred, who laid off for Thompson, and the former Newcastle Jets man curled a first-time strike into the top right corner from the edge of the penalty area to delight the crowd.
The goal triggered a spell of Heart pressure as Dylan Macallister, Thompson and Fred all had efforts, with the latter unsuccessful in his attempt to round Spoonley when perhaps he should have shot.
Wellington had fleeting moments of joy – Ifill shot over the top after good build-up work from Manny Muscat – but another three chances for the Heart in the last five minutes of the first half told the story.
Fred initially chipped wide before Spoonley tipped over a Tadic effort and Richard Garcia saw his header hit the ground and bounce onto the top of the crossbar in an exciting end to the first half.
The complexion of the game changed just two minutes into the second half though, when Heart defender Colosimo was given his marching orders.
Colosimo's actions – which denied Alex Smith a goal on the line – still ended in the Phoenix levelling proceedings as Ifill dispatched his penalty.
Tadic was sacrificed for defender David Vrankovic as a result of the red card but it failed to stem the flow of Phoenix attacks as Smith smashed an effort wide before Belgian Stein Huysegems, Biss and Ifill all went close to scoring.
Heart had a chance to win it when Macallister – who followed up a saved Fred shot – had his left-foot effort cleared off the line by Michael Boxall with 13 minutes remaining.
That was as good as it got in the closing stages though as both sides were forced to settle for a point.
Bet365 Man of the Match
Andrew Durante marshalled his inexperienced side well from the back and was a threat in attack, he was involved in the play that saw Simon Colosimo sent off as well. Played a huge captain's game.
Melbourne Heart 1 (Thompson 19')
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Ifill (pen) 47')
Crowd: 10,907 at AAMI Park