IT WAS the Leo Bertos show at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Sunday afternoon – the attacking midfielder’s sensational 85th-minute strike securing three competition points for the Wellington Phoenix in their Hyundai A-League 2009/10 home opener against Perth Glory.
IT WAS the Leo Bertos show at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Sunday afternoon – the attacking midfielder-s sensational 85th-minute strike securing three competition points for the Wellington Phoenix in their Hyundai A-League 2009/10 home opener against Perth Glory.
Bertos- 35m thunderbolt lifted the Phoenix to a 2-1 win before an extremely healthy first-up crowd of 10,024 in a match played in persistent rain.
Bertos was the star act of the match – his penetrating runs from midfield continually causing Perth headaches and providing the Phoenix front men with enough opportunities to keep coach Ricki Herbert happy heading into round three, away to Brisbane Roar.
A home win was vital after the sluggish opening round away loss to the Newcastle Jets. The positive signs from that match carried through to the first home match, the defence significantly tighter to complement the sharp attacking edge.
The Phoenix got off to the worst possible start, with midfielder Michael Ferrante yellow-carded in the second minute after fouling Victor Sikora. And it was Sikora that provided the double blow for the home side two minutes later when he dispossessed Ferrante in centre field and slotted the ball past Phoenix goalkeeper Mark Paston.
Phoenix striker Paul Ifill came close to balancing the ledger in the eighth minute, but his on-target effort was pushed away by an outstretched Tando Velaphi in goal for Glory.
The Phoenix continued to press, dominating both territory and possession with Bertos asserting his authority with several penetrative runs down the flanks. Bertos was the instigator as the Phoenix drew level in the 25th minute – his left-foot cross into the penalty area powerfully met by the head of Ifill on the six yard box.
Ifill forced Velaphi to save low a forceful drive in the 25th minute but, save for a goal-bound header near halftime, the Phoenix could not convert their dominance. The Phoenix defence came under scrutiny in the closing stages of the opening stanza, Paston denying Andrija Jukic and minutes later having defender Manny Muscat clearing off the goal-line.
The visitors came out with greater urgency in the second half and almost regained the lead in the 58th minute when Mile Sterjovski-s header from in front of goal looped over Paston but met the crossbar. Bertos again was the catalyst for the Phoenix seven minutes later when his cross first met the head of defender Ben Sigmund and then midfielder Diego Walsh, whose effort was deflected to safety by a Perth defender.
Paston-s crossbar was again rattled by Todd Howarth in the 67th minute as the visitors asked serious questions of the Phoenix back four. The topsy-turvy nature of the contest was demonstrated three minutes later when a drive from distance by Ferrante went just wide of the Glory goal.
Phoenix coach Herbert injected fresh legs in the form of Daniel and Troy Hearfield with 15 minutes remaining, replacing the impressive Ifill and Diego, respectively. Herbert completed the trifecta seconds later when Jon McKain was replaced by Vince Lia.
Daniel did enough with a header from the edge of the penalty area to force a save from Velaphi in the 83rd minute as the Phoenix upped the tempo looking for the deciding goal. Moments later, from a free kick in centre field and 35m out, Bertos stepped up and sent his thunderbolt through the Glory defence and beyond Velaphi – the ball only slowing down when crashing into the back of the net.
The goal lifted the team and home crowd through to the final whistle – the significance of the three valuable competition points reflected in the players- celebrations at fulltime.
Wellington Phoenix 2
(Paul Ifill 25-, Leo Bertos 85-)
Perth Glory 1 (Victor Sikora 4-)
Crowd: 10,024 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Wellington Phoenix: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN (17. Vince LIA 75-), 5. DIEGO (13. Troy HEARFIELD 73-), 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL (11. DANIEL 73-). 9. Chris GREENACRE, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 22. Andrew DURANTE (c).
Substitutes not used: 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk).
Yellow cards: Michael Ferrante 1-, Manny Muscat 15-.
Perth Glory: 1. Tando VELAPHI (gk), 4. Andy TODD, 6. Chris COYNE (23. Andrija JUKIC 27-), 7. Jacob BURNS (c), 8. Victor SIKORA (17. Todd HOWARTH 29-), 10. Wayne SRHOJ, 11. Branko JELIC, 12. Scott NEVILLE, 16. Adriano PELLEGRINO (24. Matthew MAYORA 88-), 19. Naum SEKULOVSKI, 21. Mile STERJOVSKI.
Substitutes not used: 20. Aleks VRTESKI (gk).
Yellow cards: Wayne Shroj 77-, Adriano Pellegrino 83-.