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EYES ON THE BALL...Lochhead and Barbiero joust
WELLINGTON Phoenix have rescued a 1-1 draw against Adelaide United in front of more than 20,000 fans at Eden Park on Saturday after Nigel Boogaard's 84th-minute own goal.
After games in Christchurch and Palmerston North, Auckland got its first taste of A-League football, although the local crowd was a little disappointed at half-time when Bruce Djite put the Reds ahead during the first half, only for Boogaard to nod in an unfortunate late equaliser for Phoenix.
Phoenix may have had the crowd and the energy, but they couldn't find all three points and as they narrowly missed out on recording what would have been their second win of the new season.
Auckland's footballing cynicism pre-match was well justified - the failed Football Kingz and New Zealand Knights franchises were the teams Aucklanders had become accustomed to.
But on a sunny Saturday afternoon, they went in their droves to support Phoenix - 20,078 punters arrived, the largest home crowd for Wellington in a regular season match - and they were treated to a heartstopper.
The Wellington club, treating their Auckland match as a 'trial' for possible future matches in the region, will need to do more in future to promote the game in New Zealand's most populous city. They cannot blame a poor attendance on that pessimism.
Their passing was inaccurate at best, they lacked fluidity and rarely troubled their South Australian opponents despite having more possession.
They may have been a brave outfit who fought above their form to grab an away point at Brisbane last weekend, but their point gained at Auckland couldn't have been more contrasting.
Adelaide were only marginally better and picked up their point courtesy of a Bruce Djite poke past Phoenix goalkeeper Tony Warner. The visitors, though, were without key duo Sergio van Dijk and Andy Slory and were always going to struggle scoring goals.
Phoenix wore black armbands as a sign of a year on since the Pike River explosions that killed 23 people on the West Coast.
Wellington started the half brightly - two corner kicks within three minutes allowed for some excited fans at Eden Park - but their inability to capitalise on their chances would haunt them for the rest of the half.
Chris Greenacre received a yellow card for a clumsy tackle from behind on Adelaide's Dario Vidosic, while Francisco Usucar was lucky not to receive one for his similarly poor tackle only moments later on Leo Bertos.
A perfectly timed challenge from Manny Muscat saw Vidosic flying before landing on what appeared to be his back. Play stopped as the Adelaide No.10 limped off the field before he promptly returned.
Adelaide's Spase Dileski received his side's first card of the afternoon with a tackle from behind that dulled any opportunity the home side had on attack. The ensuing free kick, however, troubled nobody.
Tim Brown received another yellow card for kicking the ball away after a free kick had been awarded, which saw Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic fuming.
He wasn't angry for too long, however, as Djite opened the visitors' account for Adelaide in the shadows of half-time. After the ball had been tipped over the defence, a one-on-one between Djite and Warner saw the former poke home the goal behind the latter for the visitors to go one-up.
Djite should have doubled his tallybut Adelaide's inability to be composed in the box meant the final effort looped over before the half-time hooter sounded for the home side.
Paul Ifill, on return from a groin injury, was substituted on after an hour to the delight of home crowd, but they soon turned angrily on referee Peter Green when he showed Vince Lia a yellow card for showing his disappointment towards a decision.
Reds' midfielder Zenon Caravella was also yellow carded for a similar offence as the match entered the final 10 minutes, but it was the visitors who had another opportunity to capitalise on a counter-attack although Vidosic's cross to Djite was alarmingly strong.
Vidosic's error then proved costly when, out of nowhere, the inspirational Ifill produced a dangerous cross that was nodded into the back of the net by unfortunate Adelaide defender Nigel Boogaard as he attempted to clear.
Phoenix finished strongly in the last three minutes, but were unable to find all three points in a result that succinctly told the story of their season.
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Boogaard og 85')
Adelaide United 1 (Djite 44')
Crowd: 20,078 at Eden Park, Auckland