Tactical stalemate as Wellington Phoenix draw season opener
Pass marks have been given to both the Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United squads after their opening round 1-1 draw.
A pair of early headed goals provided early fireworks for the 8154 fans at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Sunday, before a tactical stalemate dominated the rest of proceedings.
Both clubs underwent big changes in the off-season under new coaches, so should take a lot of improvement from the game as they search for their best gameplan going forward.
Phoenix coach Darije Kalezic was happy enough with his side and the way they applied themselves.
"It was a typical first competition game. After both teams started fast in the game, they thought to not lose and tried to control the game and from control maybe be dangerous.
"I complimented the guys, for their battle, for their fire, for their courage they showed to our fans. I am happy we got a point, which we deserved."
Similar sentiments were echoed by Adelaide coach Marco Kurz.
"In the first game it's not so simple for all teams. I'm not unhappy, it's OK to get a draw in Wellington."
There was a professional debut for 18-year-old Phoenix goalkeeper Keegan Smith, while young Kiwi midfielders Alex Rufer and Matthew Ridenton combined with Croatian Goran Paracki in the midfield three after Brazilian Gui Finkler was ruled out with a knock to his knee.
Any late-arriving fans might have missed one or both of the goals.
The Phoenix started well and took the lead in the fifth minute when Dario Vidosic sent a looping header back across goal, out of the reach of Adelaide goalkeeper Paul Izzo.
It was a good cross from Roy Krishna to the back post, with Adelaide captain Isaias no match for Vidosic in the air.
But that good work up front was cancelled out five minutes later by some sloppy Phoenix defending.
Adelaide's Nikola Mileusnic whipped a good ball into the near post, but Phoenix centre back Marco Rossi was caught slightly out of position, leaving Scott Galloway trying to out-muscle Johan Absalonsen. That was never a fair fight, as the Dane nodded home past Smith.
Kalezic was disappointed his side couldn't hold the lead for longer.
"It was very important to keep it longer at 1-0. If we could do that we would be much stronger in the game and get chances because the opponent has to take more risks."
From there, the match was a bit of an arm wrestle.
Both teams were organised in defence and cautious in attack, looking to prise open quality chances through patient buildup. Half chances and long shots were the order of the day.
The match was screaming out for a moment of individual brilliance to break it open, but instead it was Smith who came up with the heroics, making a great save with his leg to deny a George Blackwood header from close range 14 minutes from time.
The save drew high praise from Kalezic.
"That [save] was very important for us in that moment.
"A goalkeeper, if they don't have to do anything - which he [Smith] didn't have to - it's not easy for a goalkeeper to concentrate for the one moment which will maybe be coming during the game and he has the capacity to do that and made a great save."
That save was as good as it got in the closing stages as both teams looked content to settle for the point, rather than risk going away empty-handed.
Of interest was Rossi taking goal kicks instead of Smith in the second half, which Kalezic said was just to get more distance in the kicks. They plan to work with Smith on that so Rossi is not required in the future.
The Phoenix should only get better as they welcome back All Whites Andrew Durante, Michael McGlinchey and Tom Doyle, although they face a tough away trip to defending champions Sydney FC next weekend. Finkler is an outside chance to make the trip, with Kalezic saying his injury is not overly serious.
AT A GLANCE
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Dario Vidosic 5') Adelaide United 1 (Johan Absalonsen 10'). HT: 1-1.