GCU snatch a draw

A late goal from Jason Culina earned Gold Coast United a 3-3 draw with Wellington Phoenix at a sodden Westpac Stadium on Friday night.

A late goal from Jason Culina earned Gold Coast United a 3-3 draw with Wellington Phoenix at a sodden Westpac Stadium on Friday night.

The match at times was farcical as players struggled to stay upright on the water-logged pitch and the ball stopped dead in the puddles.

But despite the wet and windy conditions there was some entertaining football which resulted in goals for Paul Ifill and a brace for Chris Greenacre plus a double for Gold Coast striker Shane Smeltz before Culina’s 87th minute header.

The Phoenix led 2-1 at the break and Greenacre’s second 10 minutes into the second half had the home side looking on course for their first ever season-opening win.

But Smeltz got his side back in the game with just over 15 minutes to go and then Culina ensured the visitors at least had something to show for their efforts.

After a tentative start by the home side Ifill settled the Wellington nerves with his first goal for the season on six minutes.

Leo Bertos beat James Brown at the byline and his cross into the box was cleared by Michael Thwaite only as far as Ifill who stepped his man and rifled the ball home with his left foot.

Gold Coast were back on the attack from the restart with Zenon Caravella’s long range effort only denied by the woodwork.

All the players were struggling to stay on their feet on the water-logged pitch. But when Dino Djulbic slid over in the atrocious conditions he deliberately slapped the ball away with his hand and was shown a yellow card by referee Peter O’Leary.

Bertos followed him into the book a few minutes later for hauling back Thwaite as Gold Coast enjoyed a period of sustained pressure.

But a great counter-attack by Smeltz was wasted then Anderson headed another effort over.

The goal finally came for the visitors on 36 minutes when Manny Muscat gave up a free-kick for a foul on Anderson.

Culina whipped the ball to the back post and Smeltz beat All Whites team-mate Ben Sigmund to head home the equaliser which was greeted by boos from the partisan Wellington crowd.

Wellington responded immediately with Chris Greenacre tapping home for a 2-1 lead after a goal-mouth scramble and the score remained that way heading into half-time.

Joel Porter should have put Gold Coast back on level terms in the 49th minute when he had an open goal, but having rounded Mark Paston, a combination of the stodgy surface in the six yard box and a desperation tackle by Sigmund saw the ball squirt wide and the Wellington defence were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

A needless challenge by Thwaite on Ifill resulted in a second goal for Greenacre in the 55th minute.
Thwaite was booked, as Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante had been for his crude tackle on Brown a few minutes earlier, and Bertos floated the free-kick into the box where Dylan Macallister tapped it on to Greenacre who fired it into the roof of net.

The visitors were having no joy in front of goal with the woodwork, the puddle in the six yard box and some desperate defending from Paston, Tony Lochhead and Sigmund denying Smeltz a second on the hour mark.

But the former Phoenix striker was eventually rewarded for his dogged determination in the 74th minute when Porter’s pass to Culina split the Phoenix defence and the Gold Coast skipper’s cross was tapped home by the New Zealand international.

A superb diving save from Moss denied Greenacre his hat-trick and then Ifill fired wide as the clock wound down.

And with three minutes of regulation time to go Culina got on the end of a Porter cross to head home the equaliser.

Wellington Phoenix 3 (Ifill 6, Greenacre 37, 55)
Gold Coast United 3 (Smeltz 36, 74, Culina 87)