Melbourne City FC emerged from a challenging road trip to New Zealand with an important point on Saturday afternoon, as John van’t Schip’s side played out a 0-0 draw with Wellington Phoenix.
The point, secured in the Round 17 match at Wellington’s suburban venue Hutt Recreation Ground, sees van’t Schip’s side edge within one point of Brisbane Roar, who have momentarily knocked City out of the top six with a 2-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners on Friday night.
Despite a dominant first-half performance, City had to ride a wave of Phoenix attacks late in the match and a gritty second half performance from Melbourne’s back four earned a clean sheet and a positive result.
Goalkeeper Tando Velaphi returned between the sticks, while Josh Kennedy earned his first start for the Club, after progressing well from his 30-minute cameo in last week’s Melbourne Derby.
The tall striker played the full 90 minutes, while David Williams was also injected into the starting XI, with Robi Koren reverting to midfield and Safuwan Baharudin to right back. Jason Hoffman and Iain Ramsay made way for the changes.
But Ramsay was introduced after barely 10 minutes as City lost Damien Duff to injury after the Irishman clashed heavily with Wellington's Roy Krishna, in the match’s first meaningful incident.
It was nearly a double blow for City as Louis Fenton’s teasing right-wing cross narrowly evaded the onrushing Roly Bonevacia, just seconds after Duff was replaced.
However, City carved its first opportunity a few minutes later as Phoenix turned the ball over to Aaron Mooy on half way, and the in-form midfielder quickly fed Kennedy.
Intiailly beating Sigmund for pace, Kennedy opend up and shaped to shoot, only for Sigmund to intervene and get a foot on the ball, taking the sting out of the effort and 'keeper Glen Moss saved comfortably.
Sigmund then chimed in with a timely interception, cutting ourt a dangerous ball from Williams, with Ramsay lurking in the box.
The best chance of the match fell to City in the 24th minute, but Moss produced a point-blank save to deny Chapman’s close-range shot, following some aerial ping-pong from Kennedy and Kisnorbo, before the latter blasted the follow-up over the bar.
Wellington rarely threatened in the first stanza, although Michael McGlinchey's fizzing shot over Velaphi’s bar was a reminder of the danger posed by Ernie Merrick’s side.
City looked to press further in the second period and Williams’ powerful shot, which struck Fenton in the face and forced the Wellington winger off with concussion, may have been a sign that City were ready to recommence where they left off.
The visitors should have grabbed the lead in the 55th minute when Kennedy beat Durante and cut the ball to Ramsay, but the substitute could only strike his effort over the bar.
Unexpectedly the pendulum swung in the home side’s favour shortly afterwards, as Boxall headed wide from Bonevacia’s free-kick, and Alex Rodriquez’s volley was deflected wide by a desperate lunge from Kisnorbo.
As Phoenix pressed, City had to rely on a gritty performance from its back four, but it could have been curtains in the 79th minute if Krishna had turned in McGlinchey’s inch-perfect cross from 2 yards past Velaphi. Instead, the striker failed to make contact as Melbourne's defence breathed a sigh of relief.
City held on and return to Melbourne with an important point ahead of back-to-back matches at AAMI Park.