The Wellington Phoenix have extended their unbeaten run at Eden Park to nine matches and taken a major step towards a place in the Isuzu UTE A-League finals.
The Phoenix have beaten Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 in front of 15,245 fans at New Zealand’s national stadium to jump to fifth on the ladder.
A first-half goal from young forward Ben Waine was the difference between the two sides, lifting the Nix four points clear of seventh-placed Macarthur FC, who only have two regular season games remaining.
“This is a big boost for us into making the finals series,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media post-game.
“For us the three points was very important against Western Sydney, with a couple of results that happened in the last few games.
“We’ve still got three games to go where we need to pick up points, but this was a massive game for us today.”
Talay paid tribute to the seventh biggest crowd of the A-League season.
“We’re very thankful of the people that have come out today to support us.
“The support has been immense in the last two games that we’ve had here.”
Talay: ‘We’ve got an exceptional group, a group with a lot of resilience’
The Phoenix defended resolutely in the second-half to secure the vital three competition points.
“The way we set up was always going to allow the opponent to have a lot more of the ball than us.
“If we executed well and got that second goal in the second half it would have completely killed the game.
“We didn’t do that but the boys defended very well, putting their bodies on the line [and] making some good challenges.
“That’s part of the game. Sometimes the opponent will have the ball and we need to defend, and I think the boys did it well.
“We’ve got an exceptional group. A group with a lot of resilience. We have a purpose. We know what we want to achieve, and the boys put out a good fight today.”
Ufuk Talay made two changes to the XI which started last Sunday’s 4-0 defeat to Central Coast Mariners. Sam Sutton and Waine came into the side in place of James McGarry and Louis Fenton. Waine started up front, with Jaushua Sotirio moving into right wingback.
David Ball was at the heart of a promising start from the Phoenix, who looked dangerous on the counter but we’re quite able to quite produce the final telling pass.
Ball was on the receiving end of a few fouls in the first half an hour and Wanderers midfielder Keanu Baccus was fortunate to only receive a yellow card for one of his challenges.
The Englishman created Wellington’s goal midway through the first half. Ball played a clever one-two with Reno Piscopo to get into the Western Sydney box and then delivered an inch-perfect pass to Waine, who tapped home from close range.
Waine had an opportunity to double the Nix’s lead just four minutes later but he wasn’t able direct his header on target after rising to meet a Gael Sandoval free-kick.
The Wanderers were largely limited to shots from distance in the first half but had the opportunity to draw level from the penalty spot before halftime when Nicholas Pennington was judged to have committed a handball in the Phoenix box.
Western Sydney midfielder Steven Ugarkovic sprayed his spot kick wide as he lost his footing on a slippery Eden Park pitch.
The Nix created a couple of openings at the start of the second-half. Waine shot narrowly wide and Wanderers ‘keeper Daniel Margush did well to deny Ball from close-range.
Western Sydney then began to dictate the play and pinned Wellington in their own half.
The Phoenix defended expertly for the remainder of the match, with the back three of Scott Wootton, Tim Payne and Finn Surman all producing last ditch tackles and brilliant blocks.
The Wanderers finished with 20 shots, but only three were on target.
The visitors came closest to drawing level in the 69th minute, when centre back John Koutroumbis rattled Oli Sail’s crossbar.
Not even the introduction of former Wellington striker Tomer Hemed in the final 15 minutes was able to change Western Sydney’s fortunes.
Tempers boiled over in their dug-out in stoppage time with Wanderers head coach Mark Rudan red-carded for dissent.
Both teams will return to Sydney on a charter flight on ANZAC Day with the Wellington Phoenix to prepare for their next match against Melbourne Victory in Melbourne on Friday night.
20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Gael SANDOVAL, 9. David BALL (8. Ben OLD 63rd), 10. Reno PISCOPO (5. James MCGARRY 90th), 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Ben WAINE (16. Louis FENTON 75th), 19. Sam SUTTON, 33. Finn SURMAN
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 36. Riley BIDOIS, 43. Oskar VAN HATTUM
Western Sydney Wanderers
1. Daniel MARGUSH (gk), 3. Adama TRAORE, 5. Jack RODWELL, 7. Ramy NAJJARINE 8. Steven UGARKOVIC (6. Tass MOURDOUKOUTAS 89th), 13. Tate RUSSELL, 14. James TROISI, 15. Tomislav MRCELA, 17. Keanu BACCUS (10. Tomer HEMED 74th), 22. John KOUTROUMBIS, 36. Alessandro LOPANE (11. Keijiro OGAWA 63rd)
Unused substitutes: 20. Tomas MEJIAS (gk), 2. Ziggy GORDON, 29. Terry ANTONIS, 32. Jarrod CARLUCCIO
18. Ben WAINE (Wellington Phoenix) – 22nd
17. Keanu BACCUS (Western Sydney Wanderers) – yellow – 13th
13. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 38th
7. Ramy NAJJARINE (Western Sydney Wanderers) – yellow – 45+1
11. Jaushua SOTIRIO (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 66th =
10. Tomer HEMED (Western Sydney Wanderers) – yellow – 77th
Mark Rudan (Western Sydney Wanderers) – red – 90+2
This story is reproduced with the assistance of the Wellington Phoenix.