A shrewd first-half tactical switch by head coach Ernie Merrick helped the Wellington Phoenix earn a 1-1 draw with last season’s A-League premiers Western Sydney Wanderers at Parramatta Stadium on Sunday evening
A shrewd first-half tactical switch by head coach Ernie Merrick helped the Wellington Phoenix earn a 1-1 draw with last season-s A-League premiers Western Sydney Wanderers at Parramatta Stadium on Sunday evening.
The Phoenix were struggling to cope with a rampant Wanderers side roared on by a partisan 16,000 strong crowd in the opening half hour and trailed 1-0 to a 15th minute Jerome Polenz goal.
It was then Merrick decided to take the bull by the horns and striker Stein Huysegems, who has been a standout in pre-season games, was the sacrificial lamb.
Huysegems was replaced by young midfielder Jason Hicks, who is on a short-term injury replacement contract as cover for Louis Fenton, and from that point the Phoenix established a foothold in the game.
It was no more than the visitors deserved when they equalised in the 60th minute through last-season-s Golden Boot runner-up Jeremy Brockie.
Paul Ifill, who had taken the field as a halftime substitute, burst down the right flank and sent in a low cross that Brockie swept past keeper Ante Covic into the net.
But for a fantastic save by Covic to deny a brilliant strike by Carlos Hernandez the Phoenix could easily have snatched a win.
Merrick said he had to do something quickly when the Wanderers were threatening to swamp his side.
“The Wanderers came out of the blocks firing; they were all over us and we could easily have been two or three down by the half hour,” he said.
“I took off Stein, who had done nothing wrong, simply because I needed another midfielder as we were getting beaten in midfield.
“If it hadn-t been for Andrew (Durante) and Ben (Sigmund) I think we could have been down another couple of goals.
“Once we began to get a grip of the midfield we began to improve. Young Jason
Hicks made a difference and then I brought on Paul Ifill, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, and it got better and better.
"I thought we may have stolen another goal but all credit to Wanderers. They are a very good side, with a fantastic crowd backing, and we are happy to go home with a point.”
Merrick said his players had been talking about the club-s poor record on the road during pre-season and it was up to them to live up to what they had decided they want to do.
Captain Durante, one of four All Whites to fly into Sydney from Trinidad 48 hours before kickoff, said it had been a difficult opening period.
“They really came at us and Hersi was having a field day out wide,” Durante said.
“Once the changes were made we came to grips with the game.
“We started to knock the ball around and began to create chances.
“Covic pulled off a couple of great saves, including stopping a shot from Carlos that looked all over a goal, but I think a draw was a pretty good result.
“I don-t think anyone gave us a chance. All the pundits picked Wanderers across the board and I think the TAB had us at $7.
“We-ve got a lot to prove this season and to make a good start on the road was important.”
Wellngton Phoenix: Glen Moss, Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Reece Caira, Vince Lia, Manny Muscat, Carlos Hernandez, Kenny Cunningham (Paul Ifill 45m), Jeremy Brockie (Albert Riera 87m), Stein Huysegems (Jason Hicks 32m).