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The early nerves were obvious but the Wellington Phoenix got their Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season off to a promising start with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Queensland Roar tonight.
Tension was palpable from both sides in front of 10,516 fans at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, the match a fairly dour and even encounter as early clear conditions gave way to drizzling rain.
Both teams showed caution throughout the goalless first half in particular before Charlie Miller’s 46th minute goal breathed life into the match. Down a goal, the Phoenix began to show some enterprise and were rewarded in the 53rd minute with a Shane Smeltz special – the home side’s season one hotshot drifting behind the Roar defence and clinically drilling Daniel’s cross past Roar keeper Liam Reddy for the Wellington side’s first goal of the season.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert admitted his men had been slow to switch on.
“We didn’t shift the ball quick enough and I thought we were too cautious. We took that extra touch that you can’t afford against a team like Queensland and they got on top of us.
“We got better in the second half without reaching any high levels and got ourselves back in the game. We’re probably going away happy with a point.”
Game one nerves had a big role in the game, Herbert said.
“I think in game one everyone’s being a little bit tentative because you’re getting the season under way and you don’t want to make mistakes. My message at halftime was to release the shackles and be a bit more positive and to start playing the way we know we’re capable of.”
Phoenix captain Andrew Durante said the Roar’s early second half goal “woke us up”.
“We came out a bit flat in the second half and after we conceded that goal we lifted a bit and equalised not long after, so it’s a positive sign that we hit back and showed character after some lapses in concentration.
“I think everyone was trying to find their feet in front of the home crowd and it was a bit scrappy.”
Durante admitted the Roar had the balance of the first half but it was the Phoenix who had the best chance just before the break.
Smeltz was able to break down the right flank and send a pinpoint cross to Adam Kwasnik in front of the Roar goal. But Kwasnik fired his shot into the woodwork, the ball millimetres from cannoning in off the underside of the crossbar.
Stung by Miller’s goal after the turnaround, the Phoenix lifted and All Whites ace Smeltz continued to menace the Roar throughout the second half. He had a couple of good chances to grab the three points but it was the Roar who went close to snatching it late. Outstanding Phoenix keeper Glen Moss kept the home side on track for a well-earned point – first denying Sergio van Dijk’s on-target header in the 86th minute before pulling off a wonderful one-on-one save when Michael Zullo went through on goal in stoppage time.
Herbert said a point was fair reward for a hard night’s work.
“It’s a matter of taking things forward now. It’s probably a relief for everyone to get the first 90 minutes of the season out of the way and there’s some good points to build on and some areas right across the park where we need to be a hell of a lot better.”
The Phoenix’s next match is against the Melbourne Victory at Westpac Stadium this Sunday. The match kicks off at 5pm.
Hyundai A-League 2008/09 – Round one
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Shane Smeltz 53’)
Queensland Roar 1 (Charlie Miller 46’)
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4.Jon McKAIN, 5.Karl DODD (12. Richard JOHNSON 89’), 7.Leo BERTOS, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 10.Michael FERRANTE, 12.Richard Johnson, 11. DANIEL (13. Troy HEARFIELD 72’), 15. Adam KWASNIK, 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain), 25. Manny MUSCAT
Substitutes Not Used: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Jeremy CHRISTIE
Yellow Cards: Karl DODD 52’, DANIEL 54’, Leo BERTOS 56.
Queensland Roar: 1. Liam REDDY (gk), 3. Luke DEVERE, 5. Joshua McCLOUGHLAN, 6. David DODD, 8. Massimo MURDOCCA, 9. Sergio VAN DIJK, 10. Charlie MILLER (Michael ZULLO 77’), 15. Matt McKAY, 16. Hyuk-Su SEO, 18. Danny TIATTO (captain), 23. Tim SMITS (REINALDO 72’)
Substitutes Not Used: 14. Ben GRIFFIN, Griffin McMASTER (gk).
Yellow Cards: David DODD 65’, Michael ZULLO 79’, Matt McKAY 90’.