A stunning 80th minute goal from talisman striker Paul Ifill earned the Wellington Phoenix a1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
A stunning 80th minute goal from talisman striker Paul Ifill earned the Wellington Phoenix a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The point gained continued the Phoenix- march toward a home final in the Hyundai A-League playoffs but they had to dig deep to earn it.
On the back foot for much of the first half as the Heart came out firing from the start, the Wellington players again showed the character that has carried them up the table into third place to fight back.
Coach Ricki Herbert also played a major role in the second half improvement with inspired substitutions.
A 64th minute change with striker Mirjan Pavlovic replacing fullback Tony Lochhead and Alex Smith taking over in midfield from Dani Sanchez changed the dynamics of the side, and Herbert pulled another rabbit from the hat when he introduced young Niko Tsattalios for Nicky Ward eight minutes later.
Herbert pushed the fullback forward wide on the left and he showed enough neat touches to suggest it is something that could be tried again.
The Phoenix began to cause problems for the Heart defence and when the ball was laid into the path of Ifill 22 metres out he rifled a shot past a helpless Clint Bolton.
Herbert, disappointed with his team-s first half performance, was full of praise for the way they turned things around.
“This is what you get from this team,” Herbert said.
“You can ‘t be on song all the time but they don-t accept defeat easily.
“We have now won four and drawn one from our last six away games, and have guaranteed ourselves finals football for the third successive season.
“No other team has done that in the past three years and when you consider we were written off before the season started it is very satisfying.”
Asked about Ifill-s contribution, Herbert smiled.
“You won-t see a better strike this season,” he said.
“Paul can be having a quiet game and then do something like that.
“There are some big names playing in the league this season, but I don-t know if any of them are better than Paul.
“He is a game changer as you saw tonight.”