Phoenix v Fury

A-League report by Jeremy Ruane
Wellington Phoenix v North Queensland Fury

A last-gasp leveller from North Queensland Fury substitute Chris Grossman left 9,713 spectators dumbstruck at Wellington Regional Stadium on September 20, as the visitors snatched a 1-1 draw from the jaws of defeat at the hands of Wellington Phoenix in this seventh round Hyundai A-League encounter between the bottom two teams on the table.

Wellington had only themselves to blame for failing to take maximum points for the third game in a row, spurning plenty of chances after Leo Bertos fired home their goal in the sixth minute of play.

Daniel's corner was cleared to Paul Ifill, who cleverly gave two defenders the slip before clipping the ball over the gathered throngs. Andrew Durante headed the ball across goal to the unmarked Bertos, who, from six yards, gave Fury goalkeeper Paul Henderson no chance.

North Queensland should have equalised in the twelfth minute. Henderson hoisted the ball forward, picking out Rostyn Griffiths, who rattled the hoardings with a fierce drive after just fifteen seconds.

On this occasion, he worked a one-two with James Robinson before clipping a cross onto the head of 'God'. Robbie Fowler?s deft downward header across goal guided the ball into the stride of Robinson, who had time to take a touch but instead let fly with a rising first-time drive which crashed high into the side-netting.

Heeding the warning this provided, Wellington laid siege to the visitors' goal, and came desperately close to extending their advantage in the sixteenth minute. Bertos and Daniel linked splendidly on the left, with the latter's measured cross being guided down by the irrepressible Ifill to Chris Greenacre.

The striker's neat lay-off invited Tim Brown to step forward and lash a low twenty-yarder at the target, an effort which Henderson did well to see late, let alone tip around his right-hand post at full stretch.

Two minutes later, an even better chance was squandered by the home team. Ifill did Fury fullback Shane Stefanutto an absolute treat as he stormed down the right before whipping in an inviting cross which found Daniel lurking near the far post, three yards out and with the goal at his mercy, Henderson having been beaten by the quality of the delivery.

How Daniel contrived to miss the target completely - without question a strong contender for the miss of the season!

North Queensland came again, Robinson leading the charge down the right before firing in a teasing cross which was met by Daniel McBreen. His powerful header brought the best out of Mark Paston, who tipped the danger to safety.

Three minutes later, Bertos' right wing raid saw him curl in a delicious cross for Ifill, arriving at the near post. On his shoulder was John Tambouras, no stranger to New Zealand's footballing public, having played in both the Football Kingz and NZ Knights teams, which, like the country's current A-League representatives have done to date, failed to achieve during their time in Australia's foremost football league.

The Fury stopper launched himself full-length at the ball, and directed his defensive diving header over his own crossbar - a terrific piece of defending which Ifill openly acknowledged by patting his opponent on the back as they helped each other to their feet in the immediate aftermath.

Two minutes later, another chance befell Wellington, Ben Sigmund's well-flighted ball forward inviting Ifill and former Phoenix defender Karl Dodd to dispute possession. The bounce beat the pair of them, but Ifill reacted quicker to the change in circumstances, and unleashed a volley which flew narrowly past the far post.

Fowler had been largely subdued so far - no matter how great a player you are, you can?t do much without a steady supply of ball. So when he got it near the corner flag in the 28th minute, you sensed something special was imminent, and the way the Anfield legend left two defenders trailing in his wake pressed home the fact.

North Queensland's captain looked up and played an inviting ball into the path of McBreen, only for Sigmund to save the day for Wellington with a desperate clearing lunge.

The Wellington defensive lynchpin was guilty of a foul on Chris Tadrosse just outside the penalty area nine minutes before the interval which presented Fowler with his first genuine shooting chance of the match. He unleashed a delightful curling free-kick around the wall, and the ball's trajectory towards the top far corner of the net was only stopped by the fingertips of Paston, who flung himself to his left to save well.

On the stroke of half-time, Henderson, who is already set to be a non-starter when contenders for the league's foremost custodian are discussed, made a hash of a clearance from a back-pass, the ball finding its way to Ifill.

He fired in a cross which had Greenacre as its intended target, but the desperation of the goalkeeper and the just-introduced Scott Wilson - in place of the injured Dodd - to clear the danger saw them collide as they did so. No damage was done to either player, and the scoreboard remained unchanged as well - 1-0 Wellington at the break.

Knowing they needed to score, North Queensland set out their stall in a more attacking fashion for the second spell, twice going close inside the first five minutes of the half.

McBreen's well-flighted angled ball invited Fowler to dash through the inside right channel. Sigmund couldn't keep pace, but the long legs of Paston ensured he got there first and could save at the on-rushing striker's feet.

Two minutes later, Stefanutto fired in a free-kick which picked out the head of McBreen once again. Another header bulleted low to Paston's right, and the 'keeper required two bites to save it by the post.

Wellington's first chance of the half, nine minutes after the interval, saw them spurn another grand opportunity to extend their lead. Ifill and Tony Lochhead linked on the left, the overlapping fullback dashing past two opponents before clipping a delightful cross to the far post.

Daniel climbed above Tadrosse and Henderson to head the ball goalwards, but Wilson was on hand to clear off the line as Greenacre closed in looking to turn home what would surely have been a match-clinching second goal.

Ifill soon departed from the fray with an injury, and Wellington soon missed his attacking impetus. But not before a Bertos corner to Brown at the near post saw the midfielder's effort cleared off the line by another former Kingz and Knights man in Robbie Middleby.

The balance of the game was changing, with Wellington now seemingly content to hit North Queensland on the break as the visitors pounded away in search of an equaliser.

One of the home team's counter-attacking raids, in the 72nd minute, saw Bertos release Greenacre down the left. The striker made the most of a Tambouras stumble, cutting inside before eventually bringing the best out of Henderson.

Still North Queensland pressed, Fowler being denied a goal six minutes later by the offside flag. The visitors were becoming increasingly desperate to score, and as each minute passed, they became increasingly vulnerable to Wellington's counter-attacking tactics.

Such as in the 84th minute, when Durante hoisted the ball forward for debutant Adrian Caceres. He beat a couple of players before firing in a cross which fellow substitute Michael Ferrante headed over the bar from eight yards.

Four minutes later, Caceres was felled on the edge of the penalty area by a clumsy challenge from Griffiths. Referee Peter Green was beginning to tire of the nonsense which was creeping into the match during its later stages, and had reason to wield the yellow card on a couple of occasions in stoppage time, adding precious seconds onto the end of the match.

How North Queensland benefited from them! After Paston had saved a David Williams drive, we were in the fourth minute of stoppage time when the visitors were awarded a free-kick some thirty-five yards out from goal.

Fowler immediately grabbed the ball and lined up the set-piece before deceiving the bulk of those present, who were anticipating him to go for goal. Instead, a fizzing twenty yard delivery picked out Wilson, whose lay-off invited Grossman to swivel and steer a low drive beyond the despairing dive of Paston and into the far corner of the net with what was virtually the last kick of the match.

The contrast in emotions could not have been more stark. North Queensland was understandably cock-a-hoop at their last-gasp reward, a strike which left Wellington players shaking their heads in disbelief, and their notorious crowd in complete silence, a draw - the Kiwi team's third successive 1-1 stalemate - this time having been snatched from the jaws of victory at the death.