Sam Sutton’s first A-League goal and a classy winner from midfielder Reno Piscopo have steered the Wellington Phoenix into the play-offs with a 2-1 win against Western Sydney Wanderers.
It’s the seventh time the Phoenix have qualified for play-off football in the club’s 15-year history.
The Phoenix win at CommBank Stadium in Sydney secured the sixth and final playoff berth with a match to spare in the 2021/22 Isuzu UTE A-League season.
A sublime goal from Piscopo was the difference between the two sides after the match was level at 1-1 at halftime.
Left back Sutton gave the Phoenix an early lead with his first goal for the club before former Wellington forward Tomer Hemed equalised for Western Sydney in the 29th minute.
Main photo: Sutton … opened the scoring. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.
It’s the second time in three seasons Ufuk Talay has guided the Phoenix to the finals, despite being forced to play away from home for the best part of two years.
Talay: ‘It’s been a challenging two seasons’
“Very happy with the outcome for tonight,” Talay told media post-match. “I’m very pleased for the group, I’m very pleased for my staff and I’m very pleased for the club at the same time.
“We’ve got some great owners that have sacrificed a lot of things financially for us to be here. And I’m very pleased for the families and the fans back home as well.
“It’s been a challenging two seasons. Last year we came very close and just missed out but this year we’ve made it into the top six and now we look forward.”
Talay is relieved they don’t have to rely on Sydney FC dropping points in their final two games to make the finals.
“I’m glad that we did it on our own and won the game tonight and didn’t rely on other results to go our own way.
“I wanted us to be able to write and use our own pen, rather than rely on someone else’s pen to choose our fate and our destiny.
“I’m very glad and very pleased for the group that they did it tonight and got the three points that we needed.”
Ufuk Talay made one change to the XI which started last Friday night’s 3-1 defeat to Melbourne Victory, with David Ball returning in place of Louis Fenton. Ball started up front with Ben Waine shifting to an unfamiliar position at right wing back.
“Coaching is adapting to the players that you have and finding a formation or a playing style that suits the group with the attributes that they have,” Talay said.
“We’ve had to adapt and we’ve adapted quite well and that’s why I think we are where we are.”
‘Sutton struck a sweet volley past the Wanderers ‘keeper’
Ball helped put the Phoenix in front inside the first three minutes. He picked out Sutton, who struck a sweet volley past Daniel Margush in the Wanderers’ goal.
Keijiro Ogawa should have levelled the scores just two minutes later, but the Japanese forward delayed his shot and Sutton was able to block his eventual effort.
Western Sydney had close to three quarters of the ball in the first half but were largely limited to shots from outside the box and only managed one shot on target.
That came in the 29th minute when Hemed was able to turn in the box and beat Oli Sail from close-range.
The Nix had the best opportunities to break the deadlock before halftime.
Sutton rattled the crossbar five minutes from the break. Waine was first to the rebound and headed into an empty net but was ruled to be offside.
Gael Sandoval also struck the crossbar from a free-kick on the edge of the area in the third minute of first-half stoppage time. The loose ball eluded Waine this time and referee Stephen Lucas whistled for halftime.
Ben Old looked to have restored the Phoenix’s lead with a well-struck first-time shot just three minutes into the second-half. But after intervention from the Video Assistant Referee the goal was overturned as Ball was deemed to be offside in the lead-up.
Old had another chance a handful of minutes later, but on this occasion his first-time shot was off target.
Nothing could stop Piscopo from officially reclaiming the lead for the Nix in the 65th minute. He picked out the left-hand corner of Western Sydney’s goal with a brilliant strike from the edge of the area.
The Phoenix defended well for the remainder of the match and rode their luck at times.
Scott Wootton produced a great block to deny Ramy Najjarine from close-range and Sail, in his 50th A-League match, pulled off two top-drawer saves to keep out shots from Hemed and Wanderers substitute Bernie Ibini in the final 10 minutes.
The Nix closed out the game professionally in second-half stoppage time to remain unbeaten in all 15 matches they’ve scored first this season (12 wins and three draws).
The Wellington Phoenix will round out their regular season campaign by visiting Premiers’ Plate chasing Melbourne City on Monday night before an elimination final against a yet to be determined opponent.
20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Gael SANDOVAL (16. Louis FENTON 89th), 8. Ben OLD (88. Gary HOOPER 64th), 9. David BALL (5. James MCGARRY 72nd), 10. Reno PISCOPO, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Ben WAINE, 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, 7. Ramy NAJJARINE (36. Alessandro LOPANE 77th) 8. Steven UGARKOVIC, 10. Tomer HEMED, 11. Keijiro OGAWA (9. Bernie IBINI 77th), 13. Tate RUSSELL, 14. James TROISI (c), 15. Tomislav MRCELA (32. Jarrod CARLUCCIO 77th), 17. Keanu BACCUS (29. Terry ANTONIS 54th), 22. John KOUTROUMBIS (2. Ziggy GORDON 46th)
Unused substitutes: 20. Tomas MEJIAS (gk), 23. Dimi PETRATOS
19. Sam SUTTON (Wellington Phoenix) – 3rd
10. Tomer HEMED (Western Sydney Wanderers) – 29th
10. Reno PISCOPO (Wellington Phoenix) – 65th
13. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 12th
17. Keanu BACCUS (Western Sydney Wanderers) – yellow – 24th
14. James TROISI (Western Sydney Wanderers) – yellow – 42nd
Ufuk Talay (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 88th
20. Oli SAIL (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 89th
This story is reproduced with the assistance of the Wellington Phoenix.