The Phoenix managed a 1-1 draw with Adelaide United in
front of a huge crowd at Eden Park today.
Despite the dissapointment of the draw, a new Phoenix attendance record was set at Auckland's home of rugby as 20,078 packed the cauldron where the All Blacks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup nearly four weeks ago.
It was touted as the return of professional football to Auckland, as the Phoenix left their traditional Westpac Stadium fortress in Wellington.
The last time football of this level (excluding the All White's
match at North Harbour last year) had come to Auckland was the
ill-fated 2008 LA Galaxy match at Mt Smart, and today's turnout
did a city that had faced stinging criticism over hosting
large-scale football events proud.
The pitch was in a superb condition, the weather near perfect, and there were even reports of people queuing as the whistle blew for game on.
The Phoenix suffered the frustration of conceding a goal just
before the break, before Adelaide's own goal in the final minutes
gave the Phoenix something to take away.
The opening twenty minutes were scrappy, with neither side able to stamp on any dominance.
It took the fans and the Phoenix's 'Yellow Fever' supporters a bit of time to get into the game in an unfamiliar Eden Park setting, but the noise increased throughout the half.
Defensively the Phoenix were solid, this highlighted by the fact that keeper Tony Warner wasn't required to use the hands at all, only having to restart for a handful of goal kicks.
But in the attacking third it was dire straights, with the homeside only getting one shot on the Adelaide goal despite outnumbering the visitors 7-2 on the corner count.
It was a rather subdued affair for the first 40, the highlight perhaps Manny Muscat's flying slide tackle on Dario Vidosic, which left the midfielder on the deck in a perfectly legal challenge.
Then right before the break and against the run of play, Vidosic flicked on to striker Bruce Djite who pushed the ball past a charging Warner to send Adelaide 1-0 ahead.
Paul Ifill made his long-awaited return from injury 15 minutes into the second period to a rapturous reception; could he be the man to instigate a Phoenix comeback?
His presence certainly lifted the Phoenix as they tried to up the ante, holding onto possession and looking to make more of their opportunities with the ball.
With 10 minutes remaining Vidosic found himself in acres of space on the right flank, and raced within sight of the box before sending a horribly misguided cross that missed Djite - 2-0 went begging.
Just as it seemed the Phoenix were starring at a disappointing and flat loss in front of such a decent turn out, that man Ifill popped up.
The brilliant midfielder sent a cross into Adelaide's box which
defender Nigel Boogaard tried to clear with the head but ended up
heading it straight into his own net to even the ledger in the 84th
Call it a lucky escape, but Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert was pleased his side could give something to Auckland in their trip north.
"It's two club teams playing football - it's not national teams - so 20,000 is fantastic," he said. "It's nice we contributed to it in the end."