Phoenix march on

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC’s historic ride into the Hyundai A-League final series has continued, the home team beating Perth Glory on penalties in a nail-biting elimination semifinal at Westpac Stadium.

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC-s historic ride into the Hyundai A-League final series has continued, the home team beating Perth Glory on penalties in a nail-biting elimination semifinal at Westpac Stadium.

With a New Zealand record 24,278 fans roaring them on, the Phoenix ran themselves into the ground through two gruelling periods of extra time after the match finished 1-1 in regular time.

Down to 10 men after Jon McKain was marched for a second yellow card in the first period of extra time, the Phoenix held out the fast-finishing Glory to force the match to penalties.

Phoenix stopper Liam Reddy was the hero for the home side, pulling off two stunning penalty saves while his teammates all converted from the spot to give the Phoenix a 4-2 win.

Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert was thrilled with the result, which means the Wellington outfit will now take on the Newcastle Jets at Westpac Stadium in two weeks- time to continue their ambitions to reach the grand final.

“We-re through and we have another shot, so that-s great. It was always going to be a tough, tight game and both teams had periods where they dominated and were under a bit of pressure. But that-s finals football. We needed to get a result and we did.”

British striker Chris Greenacre gave the fans plenty of cause for excitement when he scored in the 37th minute following some wonderful lead-up work from Paul Ifill and Manny Muscat.

But Perth were able to grab the momentum after the break and equalised courtesy of Scott Neville-s header in the 67th minute.

From then on it was an arm-wrestle between two tiring teams for the remainder of the regular time and extra time, the match forced to an exciting shootout duly won by the Phoenix.

Herbert gave Reddy a huge pat on the back for his match-winning contribution.

“He-s been great hasn-t he? What I like about Liam and the other guys we-ve brought to the club - guys like Chris (Greenacre) and Paul (Ifill) - is that they-ve really taken onboard what we-re all about and made it even bigger and better for us.

“But we-ve kept that culture, strength and vision that the club-s always been about and driven it home. Liam-s played an incredible role, saving two (penalties) in a playoff like this is fantastic. But look at the contributions of the other guys from front to back - everyone put it out there and showed the spirit and determination to win the match.”

Greenacre said the feeling in the dressing room was a mix of elation and relief.

“The relief when that final penalty went in and the burst of elation and energy that came with it. We-ve worked hard to get that and thankfully it-s the result we wanted.”

The Phoenix now take on Newcastle at Westpac Stadium - home to the Phoenix-s now 18-match unbeaten streak - on Sunday, March 7, at 4pm for a shot at either Sydney FC or Melbourne Victory and a place in the grand final.

Tickets for the Phoenix-Newcastle blockbuster go on sale to Phoenix members first-up from Ticketek outlets and the Phoenix club store on Monday.

“I can-t speak highly enough of Wellington,” Herbert said of the more than 24,000 fans who cheered the team to victory. “Fans have got two weeks now to get their tickets and I think the momentum will go on. I-d be surprised if we didn-t get more than 24,000 for the next match.”