The record crowd at Eden Park were beholders to an exhilarating game between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory on Friday as the two teams shared the points in an eventful 1-1 draw.
The match was had plenty of chances on both ends, but there was a lack of great finishing quality for the sides, with Kenny Athiu spurning several opportunities. After several missed chances, in-form striker Roy Krishna finally crashed home a volley from close range in the 57th minute to give Phoenix the lead before Japanese superstar Keisuke Honda equalised from the penalty spot 10 minutes later.
Points-wise, the draw helped neither team. The defending champions have surely relinquished any chance of chasing Perth for the Minor Premiership as they fell nine points behind the league leaders. Wellington, meanwhile, will now have to be wary of holding their top six position as a resurgent Newcastle Jets make their case for playoff contention.
The third draw between these two teams this season shows just how evenly matched these sides are, and the quality of football emphasised how good they are. Although Phoenix is in sixth place while Victory is third, these are the two teams most likely to challenge Perth Glory for the title.
Here are three tactical observations from Goal's A-League Match of the Week for Round 19.
Forwards look to get behind the defence
Both teams boasted a huge amount of pace up front. Victory had Athiu, Elvis Kamsoba and Kosta Barbarouses with plenty of speed, while the Nix can always count on Krishna to run past a few defenders.
Wellington manager Mark Rudan looked to get Krishna into one-on-one opportunities through lofted balls in behind the defence while his Victory counterpart, Kevin Muscat, looked to do the same.
The strategy worked better for the reigning champions though, as Athiu and emerging talent Kamsoba consistently beat the defensive line of the Nix to find themselves in the box with plenty of space.
The two forwards had 11 shots between them, though only two of those hit the target, highlighting the fact that they lacked that clinical touch and smart decision-making in the final third. It is encouraging that they were able to regularly make the right runs, but without an end product, it was all for nought.
Krishna on the other hand showed that exact ruthless touch that his counterparts were missing when he fired in his opportunity after Storm Roux failed to clear the ball.
Rudan will be concerned with how often his defence was beaten by through balls and knows he was very fortunate that his team were able to keep the result to a draw.
Troisi unable to take control of the game
With the likes of Ola Toivonen, Terry Antonis and Valeri all out, while Honda only on the bench, this was a chance for the forgotten Socceroo, James Troisi, to put his stamp on the game in the number 10 role.
He enjoyed plenty of possession as well as time on the ball as the Phoenix defence were curiously reluctant to press him high up the pitch. He did get a few balls to put through Athiu and Kamsoba, but overall his final ball was lacking.
Troisi was the hub of the team going forward with 45 passes, but with a completion rate of only 66.7%, he was never able to really put the opposition defence to the sword with his passing in the attacking third.
Rudan must have been aware of Troisi’s struggles to put through killer balls as he seemed to have instructed his defence to not pressure him until he gets into threatening positions, instead of trying to dispossess him as soon as he had the ball.
Looking to the future, Troisi might be relieved with the imminent arrival of Honda back to the starting lineup, who will be able to carry the burden of being the team's primary creator.
Individual skill trumps tactical
Aside from the nitty-gritty tactics, it's worth pointing out that players often decided to take matters into their own hands rather than relying on their team's strategy eventually paying dividends.
It was a common sight to see the player with the ball looking to drive at the defence and take on their man, especially the wide defenders.
Liberato Cacace and Louis Fenton, the two wingbacks for the Phoenix, constantly tried to get past their man and put in a cross. On the other team, jack of all trades, Leigh Broxham played right-back and won the crucial penalty by doing exactly the same thing.
By running at the opposition defence in a dangerous position, Broxham forced Fenton to make a bad tackle and got his team back into the game with his direct style of running in a position he is unfamiliar playing.
Krishna mustered up his own chances as well by dribbling past his opponent but couldn't get past goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas on those occasions.
It's not always about complex tactical manoeuvres, sometimes you just need to dribble past your opponent.