The Wellington Phoenix suffered a big blow as they continued their pre-season build-up when fullback Louis Fenton dislocated his right shoulder as they drew 1-1 with New Zealand A before a crowd of almost 3,553 at Rotorua International Stadium on Sunday.
While Fenton’s 22nd minute injury was bad news for the youngster and coach Ernie Merrick, the upside was that trialist Justin Gulley filled the gap and didn’t put a foot wrong.
With two or three professional contracts still up for grabs young Gulley did himself no harm with a composed performance.
In an end-to-end game the Phoenix took the lead five minutes before halftime when Carlos Hernandez released Stein Huysegems and the in-form striker rounded New Zealand keeper Glen Moss before slipping the ball into an empty net.
It took the New Zealand A side only four minutes in the second half to equalise with Aaron Clapham having the easy task of slipping the ball in from close range after good work down the right by Bertos and Brockie.
Apart from the Fenton setback, Merrick was pleased that his team got another good work out as they prepare for the Hyundai A-League season that kicks off in three weeks.
“It was good that Ricki (Herbert) agreed to have the game because it was good for the All Whites and the Phoenix,” Merrick said.
“It was a high intensity, end-to-end game and I thought a draw was a very fair result.
“Both teams had good opportunities and the game could have gone either way.”
Merrick said it was important that the Phoenix’ up and coming young players who are playing for contracts got 90 minutes under their belt and it was a bonus that Moss, Andrew Durante, Bertos and Brockie had a good run as well.
“Those four played extremely well but the youngsters stood up well and the boys from our FSE played some good football.
“Obviously the downside was Louis’ injury and he will be out for six to eight weeks providing he doesn’t need surgery. If he does need an operation it will be longer.
“All credit to Justin Gulley who stepped up and didn’t put a foot wrong,” Merrick said,
“That gives us something to think about. We seem to have good depth in midfield and up front but we have to look at the right back position.
“The good thing is that the likes of Hamish Watson, Tobias Bertsch and Justin have been training with us for three months and know exactly what is required of them.
“Louis went down, Justin stepped in and did the job exactly as I would have wanted.
“Toby was good in midfield when he took over from Carlos, who had a slight quad strain that wasn’t worth risking, Stein had another tremendous game, Ben Sigmund was quite outstanding at the back and Tyler Boyd got a few minutes for the first time in months.”
Wellington Phoenix: Jacob Spoonley (James McPeake 82m), Louis Fenton (Justin Gulley 22m), Ben Sigmund, Michael Boxall, Reece Caira (Tyler Boyd 82m), Alex Rufer (Josh Brindell-South 60m), Vince Lia, Manny Muscat, Carlos Hernandez (Tobias Bertsch 65m), Hamish Watson (Luke Adams 65m), Stein Huysegems.