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20 Jan 2018 2:00
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  •   Home > News > Sports > Soccer

    Ljujic thunderbolt steals draw for Phoenix

    New Serbian signing Matija Ljujic has earned a late 1-1 A-League draw for the Phoenix against Western Sydney in Wellington.


    Serbian playmaker Matija Ljujic's second-half thunderbolt has secured a fighting 1-1 A-League home draw for Wellington against Western Sydney.

    The Wanderers led Saturday's round-16 clash 1-0 at halftime, courtesy of a Brendon Santalab volley, but Ljujic's 75th-minute strike levelled the scores in a match which finished frantically as both teams hunted the win.

    Coach Darije Kalezic introduced twin new signings Nathan Burns and Ljujic at halftime, and the duo sparked a Phoenix revival - in contrast to their pedestrian opening term.

    The same set-up had worked well in Wednesday's 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory, and again clicked early but without reward until the 75th minute when Ljujic laced a left-foot thunderbolt home.

    Despite the impact Burns and Ljujic made, Kalezic has no immediate plans to use the pair in his starting line-up.

    "If you ask my heart, I would let them start every game from the beginning but the reality is something else," he said.

    "Matija played his last game November 22, and Burnsy was also not in a team environment for the last month so we have to be careful with those players.

    "I have to think from a professional point of view and not take risks with the health of my players."

    Despite Wellington's indifferent start, Kalezic believed his team were unlucky not to grab the win.

    "I don't want to exaggerate but I think there was only one team on the pitch who created the chances.

    "In the second half, we were dominant - from the first to the last minute."

    However, the Wanderers had dominated possession in the first spell and were more measured in the middle of the park, where former Phoenix midfielder Roly Bonevacia looked well in control.

    Raul Llorente's 28th-minute free-kick set up the Wanderers' goal, the 31-year-old left back curling a perfectly placed ball into the box.

    Wellington's scrambling defence failed to clear, and Santalab volleyed home for his second goal of the season.

    Coach Josep Gombau said lost goal-scoring opportunities in the first 45 minutes had cost his team.

    "In the first half, Wellington was very deep and we had control of the ball, and we could have gone ahead at halftime 2-0," he said.

    "In the second half, with some changes that Wellington did, we maybe were not that good and the game was very equal and Wellington had more chances than us.

    Since losing 5-0 early last month to Sydney FC, the Wanderers have collected 11 points from a possible 18, and are well on the way to consolidating their position inside the top six.

    Wellington are still at the bottom of the ladder, but with a win and a draw in the past three days, look to have finally discovered some momentum.

    © 2018 NZN, NZCity


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