Herbert happy with draw against leaders

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2012
Dani Sanchez
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
GOAL: Andrew Durante celebrates Dani Sanchez's equaliser against the Mariners.

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Ricki Herbert was a happy coach after Dani Sanchez's second goal in as many weeks earned the Wellington Phoenix a 1-1 draw with A-League leaders Central Coast.

The Spanish midfielder missed the opening 10 rounds of the season as he recovered from knee surgery but he is making up for lost time. Just as the Phoenix seemed consigned to their third straight loss, Sanchez popped up in the 85th minute to head in a Benjamin Totori cross and grab his club a point at Westpac Stadium yesterday.

Earlier, the league's leading scorer, Daniel McBreen, earned a new contract with the Mariners after notching his 10th goal of the season. The Phoenix were again punished late in the first half, as McBreen tapped in after Mark Paston had made a top save to stop Tom Rogic's thunderbolt.

There were cries of offside, and indeed it was close, but the linesman's decision to allow the goal appeared to be the correct one.

The result lifted the Phoenix into sixth place before last night's late games, and while large patches of the game were again uninspiring, they deserve credit for hanging in and finishing with a late surge.

Not many teams have got points off Central Coast this season and the Phoenix have a good chance to start turning their disappointing season around with another home game against the Melbourne Heart on Thursday.

"Really pleased to get something out of the game," Herbert said.

"Some of the games we've gone into, we probably shouldn't have, but I thought tonight we were very good. We threw the young boys in there [Tyler Boyd and Louis Fenton] and . . . I thought we shifted the ball really well tonight and a really, really positive performance, very pleased."

Herbert's side had started brightly with Kiwi teenagers Boyd and Fenton both prominent with their pace and endeavour down the flanks. But, as they had in a 1-0 win earlier this season, the Mariners were happy to soak up the early pressure and back themselves to eventually break down a side lacking confidence.

Sure enough, the Phoenix began to run out of ideas, and it looked like another steady diet of hopeful balls into the box would be dealt with by the league's most stingy defence. The Phoenix clearly became frustrated with themselves and Kiwi referee Peter O'Leary - who did them no favours - and things were summed up when Boyd and Jeremy Brockie collided with one another and ended up sprawled on the turf.

The crowd of 5961 were also getting antsy with the performance but Sanchez's strike, and an exciting cameo from substitute Totori, gave them some cause for cheer.

Herbert is looking to sign a fullback or attacking midfielder during the January transfer window.

The Phoenix have some room to move under the salary cap after striker Mirjan Pavlovic's contract was "terminated by mutual consent" earlier in the season.

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- Sunday Star Times

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