An under-strength Wellington Phoenix have secured one of the gutsier points in their brief A-League existence with a 1-1 draw against the Heart at Melbourne's AAMI Park tonight.
Without coach Ricki Herbert, and seven internationals away on World Cup qualifying duty, the Phoenix's chances had been written off by most pundits.
To make matters worse, a vomiting Cameron Lindsay ended up in hospital before the match, instead of preparing to take his place at right back.
Hawke's Bay youngster Tom Biss was promoted to the starting lineup, with Jimmy Downey flown across the Tasman to sit on the bench.
No shortage of excuses then, but the Phoenix are most comfortable with their backs against the wall.
The Heart opened the scoring with a thrilling counter-attack in the 20th minute.
Speedy left back Aziz Behich surged clear of the underdone Vince Lia down the left flank and linked with Fred, who had taken up residence deep in the box.
The clever Brazilian laid the ball off for under-rated midfielder Matt Thompson who hit a perfectly placed shot in the top right corner, giving goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley - one of four Phoenix debutantes - no chance.
The hosts dominated the remainder of the first half as the Phoenix covered the flanks but left gaping holes through midfield.
Central midfielders Manny Muscat and Alex Smith were unable to stem the flow but the Heart could not extend their lead as halftime saved the Phoenix.
Whatever caretaker coach Chris Greenacre said at the break worked a treat.
The Phoenix immediately took the attack to Melbourne and the game took a dramatic twist when Heart defender Simon Colosimo used his hand to deny Smith's shot attempt on the goal-line.
Referee Kris Griffiths-Jones had no hesitation handing out a red card and awarding a penalty which Paul Ifill gratefully, and emphatically, buried.
So 48 minutes in it was suddenly 1-1, 11 v 10 and game on for the Phoenix.
Some frenetic, end to end action ensued with both teams creating good chances but failing to apply the polish.
Fred was a constant menace, while Louis Fenton again played well for the Phoenix.
Auckland City's Spoonley - signed on a one-match contract - proved he was not out of place at this level with a superb one on one save to deny Fred.
And another debutante, centre back Michael Boxall, was also a hero, with a goal-line clearance to prevent former Phoenix striker Dylan Macallister.
The result leaves the Phoenix sitting pretty with four points from two games and they will regain their international contingent for the home game against Brisbane Roar next Sunday.
And they will certainly need them after the two-time defending champions Roar ripped Melbourne Victory apart 5-0 in a sublime performance last night.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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