By Simon J Kay
Using the old football adage that good teams can achieve positive results when playing badly, the Phoenix must be a good team based on tonight’s evidence.
They barely fired a shot in Adelaide but somehow emerged with a draw which extends their unbeaten run to six games.
Adelaide completely dominated the match but were kept at bay by a combination of poor finishing, great defending and excellent goalkeeping from Kurto.
That dominance peaked following Mandi’s 67th-minute dismissal but still the hosts could not score, to the point their misses became more comical the closer fulltime approached.
The final few seconds encapsulated the match.
George Blackwood was in on goal but Kurto saved his shot at the near post and a back-tracking Andrew Durante lay flat on his back spent next to his keeper as the final whistle sounded.
Mandi’s red card was pivotal.
The ball was lodged under a prone Vince Lia just outside the penalty area but by the time Mandi’s swinging boot arrived on the scene, the ball had gone but Lia had not.
The kick to Lia’s midriff did not look good and Mandi was red-carded after a VAR review.
Lia had been booked for a foul on Mandi just four minutes earlier during a spell when tempers frayed and five cards were shown in 13 minutes.
But the Phoenix boast the kind of belief that sees teams dig in and grind out results against the odds.
Mark Rudan’s side stood up magnificently tonight — the brittle Phoenix sides of recent times would have folded under such an onslaught.
History was against the Phoenix.
They had won just three of their 17 visits to Coopers Stadium and were on a nine-game winless run stretching four years against Adelaide.
But recent statistics pointed to a more even contest.
The two teams were exactly level on the table, down to the same number of goals for and against.
And Wellington had not lost in five games since a 3-1 defeat at home to Adelaide on November 24.
Such has been the Phoenix’s form that Australian pundit and former Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich tonight talked them up as potential champions, given the way they had played against A-League title favourites Perth, Sydney and Melbourne Victory the past five weeks.
But the South Australian side dominated from the start, blazing a couple of early chances over the crossbar, including one from the prominent Lia.
The former Phoenix favourite also directed a header straight to keeper Kurto from close range with the goal at his mercy just before the break. But his misses were perhaps not a surprise given he scored only four goals in 197 games for the Wellington club.
The Phoenix finally created a good chance in the 52nd minute when Sarpreet Singh played in David Williams. Keeper Paul Izzo saved at his feet and that was as good as it got for the Phoenix on attack.
Adelaide had a great chance soon after when a flying Jordan Elsey thumped a header goalwards from inside the six-yard box from a corner but the ball was hit straight at Kurto. That missed opportunity exemplified the home side’s profligacy.
The Phoenix have an opportunity to consolidate a playoff spot in the next week.
They remain in Australia to play eighth-placed Western Sydney Wanderers on Tuesday night before returning home to host winless Central Coast on Saturday, their first home game for three weeks.