Matija Ljujić made an instant impact for Wellington in a 1-1 draw with Western Sydney on Saturday afternoon.
Roly Bonevacia returned to his old stomping ground as the Phoenix’s new signings in Nathan Burns and Ljujić were on the bench at the outset.
The New Zealanders were looking to win two games in a row for just the second time in 365 days, but after a cagey 25 opening minutes the Wanderers sprung to life. Josep Gombau’s men fashioned two chances within a minute as Brendon Santalab scored a half volley from a set-piece to put Western Sydney ahead, before Mark Bridge shot just wide.
The Phoenix conceded first yet again, but after the break started to control possession against a Western Sydney side with little options on the bench. An equaliser came in a spectacular manner, with new signing Ljujić sending a rocket from distance which the outstretched Vedran Janjetovic had little chance to save.
Western Sydney’s Brendan Hamill would earn a late second yellow, but Wellington were unable to make a momentary numerical advantage count on the scoreline.
Santalab scores again against his favourite team to play
It was just his second goal of the season, but it was Santalab’s eighth in five games against the Phoenix. His well taken finish in the early stages was a sight that has come to be expected whenever he travels to Westpac stadium. Western Sydney fans have been accustomed to seeing the veteran forward making an impact off the bench, but he was unfortunate here that his goal did not prove to be the winner and even at age 35, is making a case to improve upon his four starting appearances in 2017-18 among a misfiring attacking line.
Kalezic’s and Gombau’s plans clear
The Phoenix set-up deep and looked to play on the counter. The Wanderers were trying to boss the midfield and keep possession. The two blueprints of the coaches were on display for all to see on the field. Throughout the match the two sides stuck doggedly to their respective gameplans and while this saw Gombau’s men press Wellington deep in their own half during the first half, the effects of a depleted roster were clear as substitutes Marcelo Carrusca and Tass Mourdoukoutas had neither the fuel, or attacking impetus to add further goals.
Meanwhile, Kalezic’s side grew into the match and an introduction of Ljujic proved to be a masterstroke with the Serbian’s long range strike ultimately rescuing a point. The hosts will, however, rue a missed opportunity from Matthew Ridenton in the dying moments which at the time seemed like a certain winner.