Prolific A-League striker Shane Smeltz finally opened his account for the 2012-13 season but in-form All Whites teammate Jeremy Brockie deservedly salvaged a point for the Wellington Phoenix as an entertaining clash with Perth Glory ended in a 1-1 stalemate at nib Stadium last night.
Smeltz, named in the starting line-up for just the second time this season due to injury, international duty and a rushed trip to New Zealand last week for personal reasons, was fairly anonymous until he chose his moment perfectly just after the hour mark when he controlled a nod on by Billy Mehmet and swept the ball past Andrew Durante and a motionless Mark Paston.
Glory coach Ian Ferguson opted to employ Mehmet and Smeltz in the starting line-up for the first time although he stuck to his philosophy of not playing the duo up front in tandem, preferring Mehmet for the out-and-out striker's role.
There have been suggestions Smeltz might have been out of favour with the boss but the Scotsman's fist pump as the goal nestled in the net indicated relations, if strained, are likely to be on the improve.
The competition's all-time leading scorer's 61st career goal could have been a demoralising blow for the Phoenix but Brockie, who had drifted out of the eighth round clash after being prominent in the first half, produced a classy finish in the 72nd minute to allow the New Zealanders to provisionally hold on to seventh spot.
Brockie, a focal point of the Phoenix attack, controlled a through ball nicely, outpaced Steve Pantelis and then coolly slotted the ball past advancing goalkeeper Danny Vukovic to record his fifth goal in four games.
Neither side had a clear cut opportunity after the Kiwis got on the score sheet to bank all three points although Glory defender Josh Risdon was unlucky not to open the scoring in the 54th minute with his maiden A-League goal when a long range right foot shot beat Paston only to cannon off the post.
Although they produced the first scoreless opening half of the day's tripleheader, there was plenty of enterprise from both sides as inclement weather cleared just before kick-off.
The Phoenix had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the ninth minute but Louis Fenton could only make soft contact with a superb cross swung on from the right by Brockie and Vukovic smothered with ease.
Smeltz and Mehmet illustrated the danger they posed long before the 31-year-old's goal when they combined to almost ease the anxiety of fans concerned by last weekend's shock 1-0 home loss to the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Mehmet jinked past two defenders on the edge of the box and unleashed a decent strike that Paston parried to Smeltz who could only head wide.
The All Whites goalkeeper then made the save of the match in the 22nd minute when his legs deflected a goal-bound glancing header by Travis Dodd.
Brockie's equaliser made amends for a couple of opportunities in the first which were squandered when his touch and finishing deserted him when in potentially scoring positions.
He volleyed a Tony Lochhead cross wide in the 16th minute and five minutes before the interval, with time on his side, he trapped a cross inside the box but his attempt to curl the ball into the right hand corner flew wide.
Former Phoenix midfielder Nick Ward might also have done better with a couple of half chances and despite an industrious shift he was replaced on the hour by Chris Harold as Ian Ferguson tried to exploit the visitors by injecting pace from his bench.
Instead it was the wily veteran Smeltz, playing just his third game of the campaign, who delivered the deadlock breaker 60 seconds later.
While Brockie gained the plaudits, Paul Ifill typically supplied teasing crosses from the right hand flank and also did some great defensive work to track back when the Glory swept downfield.
He looked to pick up a leg injury when clearing one of the Glory's nine corners but battled on until he was replaced by Belgian import Stein Huysegems in the 84th minute.
While the clash was willing rather than spiteful, referee Strebre Delovski still booked five players.
Vince Lia, Ben Sigmund and Andrew Durante picked up yellows for cynical challenges while Liam Miller and Glory captain Jacob Burns were cautioned in the second half - Burns' fifth card of the season means he will miss Friday's visit to the Melbourne Victory.
After playing four of their last five games away the Phoenix will be happy to return home and host the Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday.
Perth Glory 1 (Shane Smeltz 61) Wellington Phoenix 1 (Jeremy Brockie 72) Halftime: 0-0
- © Fairfax NZ News