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High on drama, light on action

FRED WOODCOCK - The Dominion Post | Thursday, 07 August 2008

Rarely in football do you witness breathtaking finals and last night's certainly didn't buck the trend. There was an epic shootout, which Victory won 8-7, required to separate the two teams after a 0-0 stalemate which promised much but delivered few memorable moments for the bumper midweek crowd of 9208.

It was instead the Melbourne contingent who claimed the fond memories, becoming the first team to win all three of Australia's major football trophies - the A-League minor premiership, the A-League championship, and now the PSC.

Phoenix were aiming to become the first New Zealand football team to claim any sort of trophy in an Australian competition, just 17 months into their existence, and they started the match as if it meant everything to them.

They dominated the opening 25 minutes, particularly in midfield through Richard Johnson and Michael Ferrante, who helped create several half-chances for Leo Bertos and Adam Kwasnik.

Victory slowly worked their way into the match, winning a greater share of possession but never threatening Phoenix goalkeeper Glen Moss.

Both teams slugged it out in a dour second half, a fiercely contested match understandably lacking the finesse of a mid-season clash.

Nonetheless, Johnson and Shane Smeltz had the two best chances of the match but both saw their goal-bound efforts superbly saved by Victory goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos, who, along with Phoenix stand-in captain Jon McKain, was the best player on the park.

"When your goalkeeper is the best on your team you know that it has not been your best performance," admitted a smiling Victory coach Ernie Merrick, who was delighted to have won the PSC with six frontline players either injured or on Olympics duty, and despite not having played their best football.

"If you don't play that well and come away with the win, things are looking pretty good really."

While the composed and assured figure of McKain was clearly the Phoenix's best on the night, there were other positives for the home side, not the least being another clean sheet - their second from four matches.

Australian trialist Manny Muscat, who played the entire match at left back, also appears to have done enough to win a contract.

"We're in dialogue about that and hopefully we can get his services," said Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert, who rightly thought his side should have won the match.

"We certainly did enough to win it - it shouldn't have gone to penalties.

"We'll probably play worse and win games this year."

McKain said he was disappointed that the team failed to claim some silverware for the fledgling club, and the boisterous crowd.

"We wanted to perform well in front of our home crowd, and I think we did that, but we didn't quite win the cup which is something we wanted to do," he said.

"But there were a lot of positives to come out of the performance. I thought we kept the ball pretty well, there were no major injuries, and we got another 90 minutes under our belt against quality opposition."

However, if you wanted to see a dazzling football match or a history-making Wellington Phoenix win, you'd be waking up this morning thinking of all that could have, and should have, been, but which ultimately went begging in the A-League's Pre-Season Cup final against Melbourne Victory.

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