Wellington in good shape for home A-League playoff


SYDNEY (AP) -- Striker Paul Ifill's goal in the 80th minute gave Wellington a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart and all but ensured the Phoenix a home playoff with two regular-season rounds left in Australia's A-League.

The Phoenix need only a point from their last two matches to clinch an opening playoff match in the New Zealand capital. Wellington was level in third place with Perth, five points clear of the Heart and Newcastle and five behind the first-place Central Coast Mariners, who lost 1-0 to Perth on Sunday.

In other matches, Sydney FC edged Melbourne Victory 1-0, and Newcastle and Gold Coast played to a 1-1 draw. Second-place Brisbane drew 1-1 with Adelaide to move to within two points of the Mariners.

A halftime blast from Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert helped Wellington shake off an opening 45 minutes in which they were outplayed.

"(The team talk) probably hit a few notes at halftime, and they responded," Herbert said. "I'm not surprised they responded, because that's the group.

"Our first-half performance was pretty poor, but the second half was very, very good and that's the level we need to be at to be competitive in the finals series."

Striker Eli Babalj put the Heart ahead in the 32nd minute with a header from midfielder Mate Dugandzic's floated free-kick from the right side.

Karol Kisel's 33rd-minute goal from a penalty gave Sydney its win over the Victory. On Friday, Nikolai Topor-Stanley's goal a minute into added time gave the Jets their draw with Gold Coast after Daniel Bowles had given United a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute.

Newcastle coach Gary van Egmond said he was disappointed that his side couldn't pick up three points at home.

"As far as the balance of the game was concerned, we controlled the most of it," he said. "What's frustrating is controlling that sort of game and not creating clear-cut opportunities."