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Mar 10, 2012

Phoenix draw 1-1 with Melbourne Heart

A stunning late equaliser from Paul Ifill has virtually guaranteed Wellington Phoenix a home A-League final following a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park on Saturday night.

The Phoenix remain third with just two regular season matches remaining and are five points clear of the fifth-placed Heart after they fought back strongly from a first half battering.

And it was the brilliant Ifill who was the hero, launching a stunning 20-metre right-foot strike in the 80th minute to grab his side a share of the points.

Heart striker Eli Babalj had netted on 32 minutes with a header from midfielder Mate Dugandzic's beautifully weighted and floated free kick from the right.

The Heart had been well on top for a blistering opening 45 minutes that included an all-in melee, from which three players were booked.

Phoenix defender Manny Muscat could also find himself under match review panel scrutiny.

An undercurrent of midfield niggle blew up in the 40th minute when Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante clattered into Heart's Jonatan Germano.

Players from both sides got involved in a scuffle, with Phoenix defender Ben Sigmund and Heart's Dugandzic given yellow cards.

But Muscat appeared to grab at Dugandzic's face at the height of the melee in an incident sure to be scrutinised for the level of contact and any intent.

Phoenix's defence needed to be outstanding to stop the Heart early, with goalkeeper Mark Paston and Durante excellent.

A 12th minute handball shout against Wellington defender Tony Lochhead was turned down by referee Peter Green, while he also turned down Ifill's appeal for a penalty in the 39th minute when challenged from behind by Fred.

The Heart's hopes of grabbing a home final took a big blow with the draw, though they remain well on course to make the top six.

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