A 10-man Sydney FC hung on grimly to beat the Wellington Phoenix 2-1 in today's A-League clash at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Spectators for long periods of the match, the Phoenix roared home late, as Sydney ran out of the legs following the 85th minute sending off of skipper Terry McFlynn.
The right team still won the match, but it was a close run thing as the Phoenix threw off the shackles and pushed everyone forward.
The match had promised a bit from the start. The weather was terrific and the crowd of 7375 an improvement on the 5405 that watched the Phoenix beat the Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 last week.
The Yellow Fever were in good voice too and their obvious joy at being here spread to the players.
There was genuine quality about what both teams did in the early minutes and an entertaining spectacle looking in the offing.
The Phoenix's best first-half chance fell to Jeremy Brockie, in the 29th minute, after Paul Ifill had created some space on the left-hand flank for himself and delivered a teasing ball to the far post.
The ball came to Brockie about waist height but, rather than take a touch, the striker was only thinking of a volley.
The connection looked good and a healthy chunk of the crowd went up in expectation of the ball hitting the back of the net.
Brockie has a reputation for scoring in spectacular fashion, unfortunately this opportunity went the wrong side of the post.
Sydney seemed to lift almost immediately and they were soon looking the more likely of the two teams.
They looked especially dangerous down the right, where Ali Abbas and Rhyan Grant began to trouble Phoenix left back Tony Lochhead.
Seconds out from halftime Grant beat Lochhead, forcing a corner. Sydney played it short and Jason Culina whipped in a cross to the back post where fullback Sebastian Ryall rose highest.
His powerful header gave goalkeeper Mark Paston no chance and there was barely time for the Phoenix to kick off, before the whistle went for halftime with Sydney worthy 1-0 leaders.
Things were largely even after the break and, needing to get his team back into the contest, Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert soon went to the subs bench.
Louis Fenton came on for Alex Smith, who had been battling a head wound, while Stein Huysegems made way for Tyler Boyd.
Herbert often leaves his subs till late, so the 54th minute introduction of the pair was a sure sign that the coach wasn't
absolutely delighted with what he was seeing.
He'd have been even less impressed 15 minutes later when Grant extended Sydney's lead to 2-0.
A series of short passes, which seemed to be going nowhere, suddenly put captain Terry McFlynn into space.
He played the ball through to Grant, who beat the offside trap, and then Paston, with ease.
It was a quality finish and one that Herbert reacted to by taking off Ifill.
The Englishman had seemed the Phoenix's most creative force, but he was benched with 20 minutes remaining, in favour of Benjamin Totori.
No-one was having a lot of impact and it took a second yellow card for McFlynn, this time for handball on the edge of the penalty area, to offer a tiny ray of light.
Off trudged McFlynn, while referee Kris Griffith-Jones awarded a free kick, which ended up safely in the arms of goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic.
Brockie, who taken the first, got an almost identical freekick opportunity when Fabio handled.
Second time wasn't the charm, but third was, when the Phoenix were awarded a penalty in added time after Adam Griffiths brought down Manny Muscat.
He converted that opportunity to make it 2-1. Amazingly, Brockie almost secured a draw in the final seconds, only for Janjetovic to dive brilliantly to his left and parry away a goal-bound header.
The Phoenix hadn't deserved to get quite that close, but somehow they did.
- © Fairfax NZ News