All bets still on as Phoenix stay alive

WELLINGTON Phoenix’s hopes of reaching the top four will go down to the final round of the season after a gutsy, determined 1-1 draw against Adelaide United in their Hyundai A-League 2008/09 encounter at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

WELLINGTON Phoenix-s hopes of reaching the top four will go down to the final round of the season after a gutsy, determined 1-1 draw against Adelaide United in their Hyundai A-League 2008/09 encounter at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The home side-s effort was all the more meritorious in having to play more than 40 minutes, including injury time, following the dismissal of Tim Brown for a second bookable offence early in the second half.

Before a vocal crowd of 8241 for the last home game of the season, the Phoenix snared a valuable competition point that could prove decisive in the race to secure the fourth playoffs spot. The Phoenix, who play Melbourne Victory on Friday night at TelstraDome, have 26 points - two points behind Central Coast Mariners, who close with a home fixture against Adelaide on Sunday.

A Phoenix win and Mariners loss will see the men from Wellington into the playoffs.

It was a tight struggle against the competition-leading Adelaide at Westpac Stadium.

Phoenix goalkeeper Glen Moss was called upon in the second minute to save a Robert Cornthwaite header from point-blank range.

Attacking midfielder Leo Bertos had the first chance for the Phoenix five minutes later but his scuffed shot was easily saved by Adelaide keeper Eugene Galekovic.

Phoenix went a goal down in the ninth minute when a simple through ball from Travis Dodd found Paul Reid inside the Phoenix penalty area. Reid put a measured shot past an outstretched Moss to put an early dent into the home side-s playoff ambitions.

That dent was smoothed in the 31st minute when Costa Barbarouses, in just his second starting appearance for the Phoenix, was on hand at the far post to head home a delightful Bertos cross following a through-ball from Shane Smeltz.

Defender Ben Sigmund almost put Phoenix ahead near halftime when, on another attacking foray, his left foot shot on goal was deflected away for a corner.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert would have gone into the interval pleased his side had lifted considerably after a tentative opening 20 minutes. However, with midfielders Jon McKain and Brown edging the contest for possession and wide defenders Tony Lochhead and Manny Muscat looking to press at every opportunity, the Phoenix made several attacking thrusts to close out the half.

The mood darkened six minutes into the second half at Westpac Stadium when Brown collected his second yellow card after a fairly innocuous challenge - enough to have him sent from the field. His first half infringement, penalised by referee Chris Beath, was for a studs-up tackle.

The send-off served to spur on the Phoenix, the remainder of the game marked by the home side taking the attack to Adelaide with the knowledge that competition points had to be taken from the game.

Herbert injected fresh legs in the form of Adam Kwasnik for Daniel in the 75th minute as the 10-man home side began to tire. Barbarouses, who had a fine home debut that promises much for the future, departed soon after for Michael Ferrante.

Sigmund had a header saved by Galekovic with five minutes remaining before Smeltz almost nabbed three competition points as he attempted to chest a cross past Galekovic in the final play of an hugely entertaining fixture.

The match was the last at home for Smeltz and Moss, who will ply their trades with other Hyundai A-League clubs next season. Vaughan Coveny, not in the playing squad, was farewelled at halftime after announcing his retirement last week.