Stand-in Wellington Phoenix coach Chris Greenacre hailed his side’s 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart on Sunday as ‘pretty special’.
Seven Wellington players missed the AAMI Park fixture due to international duty – Mark Paston, Glen Moss, Tony Lochhead, Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos, Jeremy Brockie and Benjamin Totori – along with coach Ricki Herbert, who also is in charge of New Zealand, was absent for the same reason.
That meant six changes to the side that beat Sydney FC 2-0 last week, with youth products Luke Rowe and Thomas Biss included, while goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley – who signed a short-term deal from Auckland City just to play in the match – was also given a start.
A patched-up Phoenix outfit were dominated in the first half by Heart but Paul Ifill’s second-half equaliser gave them a point, a result that pleased the interim coach.
“To think we have come to Melbourne, ground out a result and to think we have got seven internationals to come back to our squad…it brings a smile to your face. That’s pretty special,” Greenacre said.
“I think before the game with the circumstances that have gone along this week, we would have taken a draw.
“We could have been two or three (goals) down (at half-time), there’s no question. You have to ride your luck a little bit which I think we did.
“The boys have shown great character in getting back in the game. The culture within the club and the work ethic that we have got…I think that shone through today.”
Wellington were aided by a red card to Heart defender Simon Colosimo just two minutes into the second half.
Colosimo – who stopped Alex Smith from scoring from close range with his intervention – was given his marching orders for a deliberate handball and Ifill tucked away the resultant penalty comfortably.
They still had to fight late on to secure a point but it was a valuable one, as Wellington climbed to second on the A-League table.
And Greenacre reserved special praise for the youngsters.
“I think his (Spoonley’s) distribution was very, very good,” he said.
“To come in out of the cold to our environment two days ago and be put out there in front of that opposition and that crowd…I thought he did exceptionally well.
“Luke Rowe at left-back was different class. He’s a young kid that has come in from Birmingham City and we have taken him on and he has done wonders. We have got Tom Biss, an attacking midfielder and the type of player that could probably replace Tim Brown with those forward runs.
“Full credit to all of them. We are delighted with their progress and their performances.”