Two of the Wellington Phoenix’s academy players have combined on their first team debuts to secure the club a place in the last 16 of the Australia Cup.
Josh Rudland has scored from a Kaelin Nguyen cross in the 119th minute to snatch a dramatic 2-1 extra time win over the Peninsula Power in their round of 32 match at A.J. Kelly Park in Redcliffe.
Midfielder Nicholas Pennington had given the Phoenix a 1-0 halftime lead before the Queensland National Premier Leagues team equalised midway through the second-half.
It remained 1-1 until the penultimate minute of extra time when the two substitutes rescued the Nix in Giancarlo Italiano’s first competitive match since being appointed head coach.
“I’m delighted for them, I’m delighted for the academy, I’m delighted for the club and I’m delighted that we’ve got young players getting an opportunity,” Italiano said post-match.
“They both struggled at the start to really get into the game, but as the game eventuated they got a little bit more confident and in the end Kaelin made the run that won us the game.
“That was the sort of thing I was looking for from my senior players and I am very happy that the younger players could provide that.”
He has praised the whole team for their performance in their first competitive outing of pre-season.
“I’m really pleased for the playing group because we were nowhere near conditioned to play 60 minutes let alone 120.
“What I was really, really happy with was we stuck to what we wanted to do with the ball. Obviously at times it didn’t work and it was a little bit rough.
“I thought they played exceptionally well. Considering that we had to travel yesterday, it was our first competitive game, and we were away from home, I’m happy to get the victory.”
Italiano handed Phoenix first team debuts to new signings Mohamed Al-Taay and Lukas Kelly-Heald, who started in the two fullback positions, while Alex Paulsen got the nod in goal ahead of fellow off-season recruit Jack Duncan. Defenders Scott Wootton and Sam Sutton, who have recently returned from injuries, were named amongst the substitutes alongside Rudland, Nguyen and fellow academy players Ben Wallace and Fergus Gillion.
The Nix quickly settled into their new shape and Oskar Zawada attempted to open the scoring from a bicycle kick in the eighth minute. Peninsula Power ‘keeper Lachlan Hunter did well to deny the Polish striker’s spectacular effort, but it wouldn’t have counted anyway as Zawada was penalised for a high foot.
Wellington’s 2022-23 player of the year was busy throughout the first half, whistling a shot narrowly over the crossbar and skying a volley well off target, both times after being teed up by attacking midfielder Bozhidar Kraev.
The hosts enjoyed a good spell midway through the half, without troubling Paulsen in the Phoenix goal, while Kelly-Heald tested Hunter with a shot from the top of the box that the hosts’ ‘keeper held on to.
Pennington put the Nix in front a couple of minutes before halftime when he showed great composure to round the last Power defender and slot his shot past Hunter after he couldn’t deal with Oskar van Hattum’s shot from the top of the box.
Peninsula Power started the second-half strongly and Paulsen needed to parry away a curling shot in the 53rd minute to keep the Phoenix in front.
Kraev came closest to doubling Wellington’s lead shortly after the hour mark when he curled a shot wide right after being set up by Kosta Barbarouses.
The hosts drew level in the 71st minute when fullback Lewis Greenwood toed a left-footed shot into the far corner of the Phoenix goal after finding some space in the box with a fortunate first touch.
Barbarouses had a great chance to put the Nix back in front shortly after when Nguyen, fresh off the bench, delivered a dangerous left-wing cross, but the All Whites forward dragged his volley narrowly wide of the post.
Opportunities were few and far between for either side for the remainder of the 90 minutes and into extra time, with the fresh legs of Nguyen and Rudland, playing down the left and right flanks respectively, looking the most likely to break the deadlock.
So it proved to be in the 119th minute when Rudland beat a couple of Peninsula Power defenders to Nguyen’s near post cross and his shot wrong-footed Lachlan Hunter in Power’s goal.
The Wellington Phoenix will have to wait another 10 days to learn their next opponents, with the round of 16 draw to take place after the final round of 32 matches on Monday, August 14.
The round of 16 will be held from Saturday, August 26 to Wednesday, August 30.
Wellington Phoenix: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 9. Oskar ZAWADA (34. Josh RUDLAND 87th), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (36. Ben WALLACE 120th), 12. Mohamed AL-TAAY (4. Scott WOOTTON 58th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD (19. Sam SUTTON 58th), 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM (41. Kaelin NGUYEN 72nd).
Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 42. Fergus GILLION.
Peninsula Power: 1. Lachlan HUNTER (gk), 2. Lewis GREENWOOD, 3. Hayden MCHENERY (c), 6. Michael MCGOWAN, 8. Joshua WOLLEY, 9. Brenton FOX (18. Malakai LOVE-SEMIRA 77th), 10. Jack HINDLE (16. Rhys MESSINA 99th), 12. Obren KLAJIC (11. Jamil ROBERTS 106th), 15. Kane GIBBS (23. Sam CRONIN 65th), 22. Solomon WELDEMARIAM (13. Josip MILICEVIC 115th), 24. Darcy MADDEN.
Unused substitutes: 25. Lachlan MOON (gk), 4. Jack CONNORS.
15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – 43rd
2. Lewis GREENWOOD (Peninsula Power) – 71st
34. Josh RUDLAND (Wellington Phoenix) – 119th
3. Hayden MCHENERY (Peninsula Power) – yellow – 30th
2. Lewis GREENWOOD (Peninsula Power) – yellow – 75th
22. Solomon WELDEMARIAM (Peninsula Power) – yellow – 103rd
16. Rhys MESSINA (Peninsula Power) – yellow – 110th
6. Michael MCGOWAN (Peninsula Power) – yellow – 120+1