The Wellington Phoenix men have capped a red-letter day for the club, beating high-flying Central Coast Mariners 2-1 after the Nix women scored their first win of the season.
The Phoenix men held on to beat the Mariners 2-1 in their Isuzu UTE A-League match at Sky Stadium in Wellington, a couple of hours after the Nix women stunned Canberra United 5-0 in their Liberty A-League game at the same venue.
It is the first time the club has claimed six points on one day.
Men’s head coach Ufuk Talay passed on his congratulations to his women’s counterpart Natalie Lawrence following their breakthrough result.
“I’m very happy for Nat,” Talay told media post-game. “The girls every game that I see and every game that I watch they work hard, they run for each other and I’m very pleased for Nat and her team.
“I think they played a fantastic game. I watched from the tunnel as much as I could.
“Nat’s got a good process working with the girls and hopefully they can continue that.”
Talay was relieved to have secured three points after the men were forced to defend for much of the second half of their match against the Mariners.
“Happy not to concede so late within the game. I thought the boys, especially in the first half, played some really, really good football and broke Central Coast down.
“Second half we probably didn’t create as much opportunities as we would have liked. They started to come, they started to load the line.
“The last 10 minutes we went to shut shop and disappointed to concede the late goal, but most important thing is that we walk away with the three points.”
The Phoenix took the lead from the most unlikeliest of sources shortly after the half an hour mark, with club captain Alex Rufer scoring his first goal in his 107th A-League game for the club.
“Alex was buzzing,” Talay said. “You could see in the celebration how excited he was when he scored the goal.
“I’m pleased for him, and he’s helped the team get the result that we needed.”
Oskar Zawada’s fifth goal in six games doubled the Nix’s lead before halftime.
Main photo: Oskar Zawada is unmarked to finish for the second Phoenix goal.
“It’s important that he scores goals for us, but physically he gave us a lot without the ball today so he plays an important role.”
The Mariners made changes at the break in search of a way back into the game, but didn’t pull a goal back until the third minute of stoppage time.
The Nix clung on until the final whistle to secure their third straight win and move up to equal third on the A-League ladder, two points behind Central Coast.
Talay makes one change to starting line-up
Ufuk Talay made just one change to the XI which started last week’s 1-0 win over the Roar in Brisbane, with Bulgarian midfielder Bozhidar Kraev returning from suspension in place of Brazilian playmaker Yan Sasse.
The Phoenix attacked from the opening whistle and came within millimetres of opening the scoring inside two minutes.
Kosta Barbarouses struck the underside of the crossbar and for the second time in two matches at Sky Stadium cruelly watched his shot spin away from goal.
Zawada also curled a shot high and wide of the target moments later, after the Mariners gave away a free-kick on the edge of their box.
The Nix were awarded a penalty 13 minutes into the match after Storm Roux was deemed to have fouled Lucas Mauragis just inside the Central Coast penalty area.
After a long deliberation with the video assistant referee, the penalty was changed to a free-kick just outside the box and Wellington weren’t able to create a goalscoring opportunity from it.
Wellington were rewarded for their dominance in the 32nd minute when Rufer broke his goalscoring duck.
He was first to Josh Laws’ header across goal and squeezed his shot past Danny Vukovic and into the Mariners’ goal.
Zawada doubled the Phoenix’s lead five minute from fulltime when he met an enticing right wing cross from Callan Elliot with a strong left boot.
Rufer came close to making it 3-0 before halftime, thundering a volley narrowly wide of Vukovic’s top left hand corner.
Central Coast coach Nick Montgomery made a double change at the break and the Mariners were a different team after his halftime team talk.
Talay soon had to make a change of his own with All Whites midfielder Clayton Lewis limping off after taking a knock in the first-half.
The visitors started dominating possession and creating chances.
But the Nix defended resolutely and Oli Sail made the saves when he was called upon.
Central Coast’s biggest opportunity in the 90 minutes fell to substitute Christian Theoharous nine minutes from fulltime when the ball was cut back to him in the box. But Phoenix substitute Steven Ugarkovic got his body in the way and arms out of the way to block the shot on the line.
Beni Nkololo gave the Mariners a lifeline following a goalmouth scramble in stoppage time, but they weren’t able to find a second to snatch a share of the spoils.
Three Wellington players received yellow cards in time added on and after the final whistle as tempers boiled over, but they ensured they didn’t concede a late equaliser.
The Wellington Phoenix men will next head to Palmerston North, Alex Rufer’s home town, on Saturday afternoon to host the resurgent Perth Glory.
Game played on Sunday January 22, 2023
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Alex Rufer 32′, Oskar Rawada 40′)
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Béni N’Kololo 90+2′)
20. Oli SAIL (gk), 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL (3. Finn SURMAN 82nd), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (8. Ben OLD 77th), 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 21. Joshua LAWS 23. Clayton LEWIS (5. Steven UGARKOVIC 51st).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 19. Sam SUTTON, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE.
Central Coast Mariners
20. Danny VUKOVIC (gk) (c), 3. Brian KALTAK, 4. Joshua NISBET (31. Christian THEOHAROUS 73rd), 7. Samuel SILVERA, 11. Beni NKOLOLO, 13. Harrison STEELE (2. Thomas AQUILINA 46th), 15. Storm ROUX (6. Maximilien BALARD 46th), 18. Jacob FARRELL (23. Daniel HALL ), 21. Michael RUHS (90. Paul AYONGO 59th), 25. Nectarios TRIANTIS, 98. Marco TULIO.
Unused substitutes: 24. Yaren SOZER (gk), 22. Cameron WINDUST.
15. Storm ROUX (Central Coast Mariners) – yellow – 13th
11. Beni NKOLOLO (Central Coast Mariners) – yellow – 24th
14. Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 45th
Ufuk Talay (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 82nd
17. Callan ELLIOT (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90+5
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90+8
25. Nectarios TRIANTIS (Central Coast Mariners) – yellow – 90+9
20. Oli SAIL (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90+9