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Reigning Champions Hold Wellington To A Draw
By Jeremy Ruane

The indifferent start to the 2009-10 Hyundai A-League season of reigning champions Melbourne Victory continued unabated on 13 September at Etihad (Docklands) Stadium, where 17,644 fans watched them hold Wellington Phoenix to a 1-1 draw.

The visitors, after suffering a nightmare start to the game, were good value for a point, and few would have begrudged them all three from this encounter, which extends Melbourne’s record for the season to one win from their first six matches.

Wellington’s record was identical to their opponents going into this match, and remains so after it, but it was shaping to be anything but when Melbourne opened the scoring with the game’s first attack in the fourth minute.

Vince Lia crudely curtailed the progress of Ney Fabiano some twenty-five yards out from goal - not the smartest thing to do when the opposition boast a set-piece wizard of the ilk of Carlos Hernandez.

Sure enough, the Costa Rican international bent a beauty around the defensive wall and into the top right-hand corner of Mark Paston’s goal, the goalkeeper flailing in vain as the sphere sped past him, much to the delight of the local faithful.

Unperturbed, the visitors responded positively to the early setback, Leo Bertos going close with a twenty-yarder four minutes later after Matthew Kemp had been caught dribbling out of defence.

Further Wellington pressure followed, with Chris Greenacre’s right wing rampage culminating in a cross from the by-line which precisely picked out Daniel. The Brazilian’s controlled volley was pawed out at the second attempt by Melbourne’s former Wellington custodian, Glen Moss, who had to rely on Roddy Vargas to get him out of jail moments later, after he fumbled the ball in the goalmouth.

In between times, Melbourne had gone close to doubling their advantage. Tom Pondeljak engineered some space on the right and crossed to the near post where Ney Fabiano was arriving on cue. His diving header flashed over the bar.

Wellington had strong penalty claims turned away by referee Craig Zetter in the 27th minute when Paul Ifill went down in the area under Kemp’s challenge from behind. Their pleas suffered a similar fate a minute from time when Manny Muscat went to ground following a Vargas challenge in the box.

It’s both odd and disappointing how the same offence, if it occurs anywhere else on the park, instantly attracts a free-kick, yet once play enters what is fast becoming an eighteen yard corridor of refereeing uncertainty, those in charge suddenly appear to lack the courage of their convictions …

There could be no doubt about the decision required in the 29th minute, as Wellington scored a cracking goal. Greenacre sent Daniel dashing to the by-line on the right, and his first-time cross was neatly controlled with one touch by Brown, who swivelled to deftly lash home a stunning equaliser - Moss hadn’t a prayer of stopping it.

Melbourne sought the swiftest of ripostes, storming downfield straight from the kick-off. Pondeljak’s through ball put both Archie Thompson and Hernandez in on goal with Paston to beat, but the goalkeeper prevailed thanks largely to the uncertainty of his opponents, who weren’t quite certain who should have the pleasure of restoring the home team’s lead.

But for Moss, they would have been trailing in the 34th minute, the ‘keeper producing a stunning save to deny Andrew Durante’s bullet header, after he was left unmarked when Bertos sent a corner arcing into the goalmouth.

Ten minutes later, another Bertos corner wasn’t cleared at the near post, and the combined efforts of Moss and Adrian Leijer were required to prevent Greenacre from firing home a goal which would have given Wellington a half-time advantage.

Melbourne, who went close via a Ney Fabiano header following a Hernandez corner to the far post four minutes before the interval, found themselves on the back foot after Grant Brebner’s twenty-five yarder sailed wide of the target five minutes into the second spell.

Bertos saw his twenty yard free-kick deflected to safety by the defensive wall in the 53rd minute, with Daniel’s resulting corner being powerfully headed across the face of goal by Brown from ten yards.

And after Paston had smothered at his near post to deny Pondeljak’s tight-angled drive, Ifill gave Leigh Broxham and Kemp the slip in some style on the hour mark before hammering a low drive across the face of goal and just past the far post.

Both teams really needed to win this match, given none of the top four teams scored victories this weekend, but it was Wellington who were looking the more likely winners half-way through the second spell, which was when Brown fired a free-kick into the goalmouth with Ifill’s name on it. Moss had other ideas, however, and managed to punch the ball clear before colliding with the Wellington striker.

Both players escaped unscathed, as did the visitors in the 69th minute, Hernandez being thwarted by a vital piece of defensive work by Muscat. The Costa Rican then found Jon McKain in imperious form as he looked to pick out Melbourne substitute Nick Ward seven minutes before full-time, although the Wellington defender paid the price for his intervention - he injured his knee in the process and had to depart soon after.

Both teams had chances to clinch all three points in stoppage time, with Wellington’s young debutant Marco Rojas engineering opportunities for both Greenacre and Brown. The former’s shot on the turn was directed straight at Moss, while the latter couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet, enabling Vargas to avert the danger.

Seconds prior to that denial, Melbourne had contrived the best move of the match in an effort to come up with a winner. Kemp swept the ball from left to right, picking out Thompson, whose quick-fire interchange of passes with Leijer and Hernandez culminated in a first-time cross to the near post which Brebner headed narrowly past the upright - the quality of the move deserved better fate.

Had a goal resulted from it, however, it would have been harsh on Wellington, who were well worth their point in this match, and few would have begrudged them all three at the expense of the reigning champions, who have yet to display the form befitting that tag.

Melbourne: Moss; Leijer, Sukha, Vargas, Kemp (booked, 82); Broxham, Pondeljak (Ward, 71), Brebner, Hernandez; Thompson, Ney Fabiano (booked, 13) (Kruse, 58).

Wellington: Paston; Muscat, McKain (Ferrante, 90), Durante, Lochhead; Bertos (Hearfield, 64), Brown (booked, 90), Lia, Daniel (Rojas, 76); Ifill, Greenacre.

Referee: Craig Zetter.

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