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The Wellington Phoenix remain unbeaten in the Hyundai A-League after grinding out a gutsy 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park today.
With seven players away on international duty the Phoenix were forced to give debuts to four players – goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley, Michael Boxall, Luke Rowe and Tom Biss – as well as throwing Vince Lia into the fray with no match time under his belt pre-season.
Just for good measure coach Ricki Herbert was watching on television in the All Whites’ Christchurch hotel, leaving assistant coach Chris Greenacre in charge for the first time.
It was a difficult task and one that got harder when Matt Thompson gave the home side the lead in the 20th minute with a lovely strike.
For the rest of the half the Phoenix were under pressure but once they were able to get in the dressing room at half time and regroup Greenacre managed to turn things around.
His players went out in a more positive frame of mind and they were immediately rewarded when Paul Ifill equalised from the penalty spot after Heart’s Simon Colosimo turned a goal-bound shot over the crossbar with his hand.
It also meant a red card for Colosimo and with the Heart down to 10 men the Phoenix went looking for another goal.
As the game progressed however the Phoenix began to lose their shape as tiredness took over and they were pleased to leave Melbourne with a point.
Greenacre was delighted with the result and the way the young players in particular stuck to their task.
“You have to give them credit, they did a fantastic job,” Greenacre said.
“You look at Jacob Spoonley and have to admire the way he has come into the club cold and turned in a top-class performance.
“Luke Rowe was different class standing in for Tony Lochhead and Tom Biss showed enough today to show that in time he could possibly replace Tim Brown with his all-round play and forward runs.”
Asked by media how the Phoenix continue to surprise when they are written off every season, Greenacre said it was down to the culture that had been created in the club.
He said it had been difficult to plan for the game with so many senior players missing and he was delighted to have got a point.
“I don’t know whether it is right to ask a team to play when they have so many away on international duties, but you have to get on with it and do your best because you are not going to change things.
“After getting a draw we can now look at next week and anticipate getting seven internationals back. That can’t be bad.”
Herbert, who kept in touch with the bench by telephone and texts during the game, said it was a fantastic result.
“You have to take your hat off to the youngsters who came in and did such a good job,” Herbert said.
“It makes the club’s future look good.”