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Sunday, November 21 2021
Wellington Phoenix show promise but forced to settle for point in A-League opener

So far, so good for the Wellington Phoenix men.

They have opened their 2021-22 A-League campaign with a 1-1 draw against Macarthur, a solid result given the upheavals of the off season and the high-profile players they have lost.

On the balance of chances the Phoenix should probably have won, with three clear-cut scoring opportunities, aside from Gary Hooper's well taken first-half penalty.

That will provide some frustration, especially given the springboard that three points would have provided, but it was an encouraging performance nonetheless.

They kept Ulises Davila quiet, after the Mexican's lucrative move to Australia, defended well and showed enough on attack, considering they lost Reno Piscopo to injury early in the second half.

It gives the team something to build on, after the early struggles last season.

Ufuk Talay went with his strongest possible lineup, in a 4-4-2 formation, with David Ball and Piscopo pushing high as the wide midfield players.

It wasn't a glamourous setting for a season opener, played in a windswept, near-empty stadium in drizzling rain, after the match was shifted from Macarthur's home ground due to concerns with the state of the Campbelltown Stadium pitch.

The Phoenix were comfortable to cede possession early but worked their way into the match. Despite the loss of key individuals, Talay's style is imprinted within the DNA of the squad.

They had the familiar effective structure, while Macarthur initially resembled a team littered with expensive new signings - there were six recruits in their starting lineup - but lacking cohesion and a defined style.

The first-half flashpoint came in the 25th minute, after Piscopo was caught in a rash challenge just inside the area.

It initially looked like the Australian should have rolled the ball to an overlapping runner, but his decision to cut inside provoked the tackle. A penalty was awarded – after a VAR review – and Hooper produced an assertive finish, high and down the middle.

The Englishman was earlier denied by a brilliant point-blank save from Filip Kurto from six yards, after connecting with a precise cross from James McGarry.

The Phoenix were well organised defensively, exhibiting their fitness and appetite for work as they tracked back.

Piscopo was replaced by Ben Old in the 52nd minute, after appearing to roll his ankle.

The Sydney team didn't manage a shot on target in the first 45 minutes, but Macarthur upped the ante after the break, gradually increasing the pressure. There was a string of crosses, blocked shots and efforts that went wide.

Oli Sail hadn't really been tested but momentum had shifted, and Lachlan Rose's 61st-minute goal was just reward, as the young striker volleyed home from a corner after being left alone at the far post.

The Phoenix probably should have regained the lead minutes later, but Ben Waine under-hit his cross to Jaushua Sotirio after brilliantly springing the offside trap, which allowed Kurto to smother.

The visitors had another gilt-edged opportunity with 10 minutes to play, only denied by a freakish clearance by Tomislav Uskok, as both Waine and Sotirio converged on the ball sitting virtually on the goalline, after lovely lead-up play by Ball.

Both teams pushed for a winner, with the Phoenix looking more likely in the closing stages, but the respective defences were resolute.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Gary Hooper 25 pen)
Macarthur 1 (Lachlan Rose 61)
Halftime 1-0

Posted by: AT 11:53 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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