Phoenix, Heart all square

Wellington Phoenix cemented their place in the Australasian football record books on Sunday thanks to a 2-2 Hyundai A-League draw with Melbourne Heart at Westpac Stadium.

Wellington Phoenix cemented their place in the Australasian football record books on Sunday thanks to a 2-2 Hyundai A-League draw with Melbourne Heart at Westpac Stadium.

The result saw Wellington stretch their unbeaten run at the venue to 24 games, one clear of the previous record holders Sydney United, who went 23 consecutive National Soccer League matches without defeat at Sydney United Sports Centre from 1996-99.

For a while it looked as though John Aloisi’s penalty and another first-half strike from Matt Thompson, both of which came after a Chris Greenacre’s sixth minute opener for the home side, were going to be enough for the A-League newcomers to become the first team to win in the New Zealand capital since Brisbane Roar’s 1-0 victory on October 26, 2008.

But Leo Bertos’ long-range curling shot in the 59th minute put paid to that.

“It’s locked in the cupboard and it’s something we can all be proud of,” Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said of the record.

“It’s probably going to be pretty hard to beat I’d suggest.

“I didn’t sense any kind of tension from the players (because of the chance of breaking the record). There was good purpose, certainly in the second half, to go and win the game.”

Both teams made a lively start in the blustery conditions but it was the Phoenix who took the lead when Manny Muscat provided the perfect through ball for Greenacre to calmly slot home.

Two minutes later Paul Ifill should have doubled the tally when Greenacre fired in a pinpoint cross from the right, but the Barbados international blasted well over.

The Heart, who welcomed back captain Simon Colosimo from injury and Dean Heffernan from suspension, drew level when Adrian Zahra won his side a penalty in the 13th minute.

After making a strong run into the box he was brought down by Muscat and Aloisi stepped up and fired the ball underneath Mark Paston, who replaced Danny Vukovic in goal for the only change to the Phoenix starting line-up.

The game began to drift with neither side creating any real goal-scoring opportunities until the 34th minute when Bertos whipped in a ball from the left only for Ifill to head just wide.

Heart midfielder Matt Thompson made no mistake two minutes later however, and showed good strength and nimble footwork to beat Troy Hearfield and Sigmund – part of a new-look back three formation with Jade North and Andrew Durante – before drilling the ball into the far corner to put the visitors 2-1 up and the score remained that way to the break.

Herbert made two changes at half-time bringing on striker Mirjan Pavlovic and midfielder Vince Lia for Nicky Ward and defender Jade North with Muscat and Hearfield dropping back as they reverted to a more traditional back four formation.

But that did not stop Muscat getting forward to set up the home side’s equaliser with a nice back heel to Bertos whose curling long-range shot – helped by the wind – totally deceived Clint Bolton in the Heart goal.

The final 30 minutes of the match provided few real opportunities for either side despite the coaches turning to their respective benches in the bid to find the winner.

Heart coach John Van’t Schip felt the draw was probably a fair reflection of the game.

“Once it got to 2-2 it could have gone either way. We had a few opportunities … but the final touch just wasn’t there,” he said.

“On the other hand they were also dangerous on the break so I think the result is the right one.”