Sydney FC clinch Premiers Plate as Phoenix are denied by Adelaide

Sydney FC were confirmed as Hyundai A-League Premiers after their closest challengers Wellington Phoenix remained locked at 1-1 against a revitalised Adelaide United.

Wellington now trail the runaway leaders by 11 points with only three games left to play after substitute Ulises Davila saw his 88th-minute penalty saved by in-form Reds gloveman Paul Izzo at Bankwest Stadium.

Jaushua Sotirio levelled five minutes after Kristian Opseth had put Adelaide ahead on the hour mark and, although the draw lifts Phoenix ahead of Melbourne City into second place, the Sky Blues cannot be caught in the race for the Premiers Plate.

Talay rung the changes, bringing in six fresh faces from the midweek win against Perth Glory, and Carl Veart’s side had the better of a closely-contested first half with Opseth landing the only attempt on target with a bullet header that forced a fingertip save from Stefan Marinovic as half-time approached.

Mexican playmaker Davila sparked Wellington into life when he came off the bench at half-time but Opseth dented the ’Nix's chances when the Norwegian forward ghosted between two defenders to convert Ben Halloran’s cross on the hour.

Sotirio hit back on 65 minutes and the Kiwi club piled forward in the closing stages, as Davila saw his curling strike parried on to the crossbar by Izzo. The Aussie ’keeper would not be beaten again as a late spot-kick save earned a point for the Reds, who tighten their grip on sixth place with their first draw in 23 matches this campaign.

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Key moments

Phoenix coach Talay rang the changes, bringing in six fresh faces from the midweek win against Perth, but it was the only new name in Veart’s line-up, Lachlan Brook, that almost broke the deadlock in the 10th minute when the teenager’s in-swinging cross was parried away by Stefan Marinovic with Stefan Mauk breathing down the Kiwi gloveman’s neck.

Sam Sutton, making his first Hyundai A-League start despite being out of contract, came close in response for Wellington before Riley McGree fired off target moments later. Ben Halloran, making his 50th competition appearance, saw his cross pushed away by Marinovic and Liberato Cacace skewed a strike over from his weaker right leg as both sides traded attacking surges without threatening the scoreboard.

The Reds’ 1-0 win against Brisbane Roar had snapped a four-game winless streak and Veart’s much-improved backline and midfield gave little away as the half progressed. A 29th-minute free-kick from last week’s match-winner Kristian Opseth whistled wide, before the Norwegian’s powerful header forced a fine save from Marinovic on 42 minutes. Ryan Strain then turned from crosser to shooter and drilled an effort over as Adelaide went into the sheds in the ascendancy.

WATCH: Marinovic keeps Phoenix in the game with an outstanding save from Opseth's thunderous header.

The introduction of Mexican playmaker Ulises Davila at the interval provided a lift for the Kiwi club and Jordan Elsey’s slip on 48 minutes opened up a clear chance for Piscopo but the Olyroos attacker could only find the side-netting. But no sooner had Phoenix come out of their shell, Halloran’s rampaging run down the right was met with a towering header by Opseth on the hour mark to power the Reds in front. 

WATCH: Opseth squeezes between two defenders to head home Ben Halloran's delivery.

The goal was a jolt that sparked Talay’s men into life. On 65 minutes, Piscopo's through ball found Sotirio clear on goal, and the Olyroo followed up after Izzo saved his initial attempt to level the scores. Wellington kept up the pressure, Davila lifted an attempt over the Reds’ crossbar, Cacace saw his fizzing effort palmed away by Izzo and Brandon Wilson hammered a shot off target – all in the following five minutes of frantic action.

GOAL: Sotirio strikes at the second bite to bring Wellington back level.

And the tempo was lifted even further as Davila seized control of the match, but Izzo proved to be the foil for all of the Mexican's efforts. The attacker's curling attempt on 76 minutes seemed destined for the net until Izzo's out-stretched finger was enough to divert the ball on to the woodwork. 

WATCH: Izzo gets a fingertip on Davila's strike as the ball cannons back off the frame of the goal.

When Piscopo was sent tumbling in the penalty area by Reds substitute Mohamed Toure, a golden opportunity finally arrived for Davila to move beyond an unlucky 13 goals for the season. But his softly struck 88th-minute penalty was held by Izzo, diving to his right, as Adelaide claimed a draw and moved three points clear of Newcastle Jets in sixth position on the ladder.

WATCH: Izzo comes up big from 12 yards as Davila spurns a chance to claim all three points.

Next match

  • Adelaide United v Perth Glory

When: Thursday, 30 July
Where: Bankwest Stadium
Kick-off: 7.30pm (AEST)

  • Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix

When: Friday, 31 July
Where: Bankwest Stadium
Kick-off: 7.30pm (AEST)

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around the grounds