Phoenix surrender win at the death

IT WAS heartbreak for the Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon, a 94th-minute strike by North Queensland Fury’s Chris Grossman denying the home side what looked certain to be a valuable Hyundai A-League 2009/10 home win.

IT WAS heartbreak for the Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon, a 94th-minute goal by North Queensland Fury denying the home side what looked certain to be a valuable Hyundai A-League 2009/10 home win.

In the end the Phoenix had to settle for a 1-1 draw, the sixth-minute strike by hometown hero Leo Bertos having put the Wellington side on course for a climb up the competition standings.

Played in perfect conditions before a healthy crowd of 9713 vocal fans at Westpac Stadium, it will be cold comfort for the Phoenix that the result extended their unbeaten run at home to nine matches dating back to October last year.

Phoenix defenders Ben Sigmund and captain Andrew Durante for the most part nullified the threat of Fury captain and former Liverpool great Robbie Fowler, the Phoenix duo shutting him down on the very few occasions he threatened.

The draw was the Phoenix-s fourth draw this year and keeps them in touch on a congested competition table.

The home side ensured the home crowd was in full voice when energetic attacking midfielder Bertos was on hand early on to slot home from close range in front of goal. A left flank corner by Daniel went deep to Paul Ifill, requiring the striker to evade some close attention before chipping to Durante who coolly fed the ball to Bertos to finish.

A madcap two minutes could have seen the Phoenix extend their lead but for fine goalkeeping and a lapse in timing. Phoenix midfielder Tim Brown-s goal-bound strike from just beyond the penalty area in the 15th minute was pushed away to safety by a diving Paul Henderson in goal for Fury. Moments later, Daniel missed a golden opportunity when he misjudged a delightful Ifill cross that had found the Brazilian unmarked in front of goal and with the goalkeeper beaten.

Phoenix custodian Mark Paston was pressed into action midway through the half to parry away a well-directed close range header from Daniel McBreen, before action returned to the other end and Ifill shot just wide of Henderson-s right-hand post.

Fury front man Fowler got his first sight of the Phoenix goal 10 minutes from the break - his left-footed free kick tipped away well by an outstretched Paston to deny what could have been an equaliser.

It was Paston who was again called upon early in the second half to maintain the home side-s edge, denying a header on goal by saving low and to his right as the visitors looked to up the tempo.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert went to his bench in the 55th minute when the busiest player of the match to that point, Ifill, was replaced by Troy Hearfield. Adrian Caceres made his first appearance for the Phoenix since transferring from the Central Coast Mariners when he replaced Daniel 10 minutes later. With 15 minutes to go Michael Ferrante completed the trifecta when Manny Muscat was spelled.

Chris Greenacre did well to force the Fury keeper to save low when his right-foot strike threatened to seal the three competition points for the Phoenix. The home side continued to apply the pressure late in the game, with Ferrante heading over the bar in the 84th minute and Caceres having a good appeal for a penalty turned down minutes later.

The crowd fell silent when deep into injury time when an innocuous Fowler free kick bobbled into penalty area and fell to substitute Chris Grossman, who shot low past Paston to grab the draw in the 94th minute.

The Phoenix-s next match is against the Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium on Sunday, September 27, at the revised time of 4pm (NZDT).

Match summary:

Wellington Phoenix 1

(Leo Bertos 6-) NQ Fury 1 (Chris Grossman 90-+4-)

HT: 1-0

Crowd: 9713 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Wellington Phoenix: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT (10. Michael FERRANTE 76-), 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL (13. Troy HEARFIELD 56-), 9. Chris GREENACRE, 11. DANIEL (14. Adrian CACERES 66-), 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 22. Andrew DURANTE (c).

Substitutes not used: 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk).

Yellow cards: Andrew Durante 28-, Leo Bertos 87-.

NQ Fury: 1. Paul HENDERSON (gk), 2. Robbie MIDDLEBY, 3. Chris TADROSSE (11. David WILLIAMS 65-), 8. Shane STEFANUTTO, 9. Robbie FOWLER (c), 16. Paul KOHLER (14. Chris GROSSMAN 51-), 18. James ROBINSON, 19. Daniel MCBREEN, 21. John TAMBOURAS, 22. Karl DODD (4. Scott WILSON 43-), 23. Rostyn GRIFFITHS.

Substitutes not used: 30. Matt HAM (gk).

Yellow cards: Daniel McBreen 31-, Shane Stefanutto 90-.