Wellington Phoenix have put aside concerns over All White absentees to reward their faithful fans with a vintage performance on Sunday night at Westpac Stadium.
Amid furore over the International and A-League fixtures clash the focus could have easily been on who was absent rather than who was present, but the Phoenix players that pulled on the yellow and black played with a spirit and belief that keep alive Wellington’s slim finals hopes.
In cool but clear conditions Wellington started the brighter fashioning a swag of half chances inside the first fifteen minutes.
Kosta Barbarouses, playing up front alongside Hamish Watson found space and almost picked out his strike partner with a curling cross inside the first minute, but it just evaded the burly striker.
Roly Bonevacia was prominent in the early exchanges and only some scrambling defence from Newcastle prevented him from putting Barbarouses through, before Adam Parkhouse shot just over the crossbar following a cushioned layback from Gui Finkler.
Parkhouse then returned the favour but the Brazilian did not strike his shot cleanly to the relieve of Jack Duncan in the Newcastle goal.
Jason Hoffman lashed a decent shot that Lewis Italiano had to move well to to tip round the post, but it was Wellington again with the next significant effort.
In the 24th minute Bonevacia found Vince Lia in space and the defensive midfielder then threaded a sublime ball to Barbarouses, who finished drilling low and hard across Duncan for the opening goal.
Newcastle began to find a bit of a foothold in the game, but any momentum was stilled in the 37th minute as Finkler doubled Wellington’s lead with a collector’s item – a thumping header.
Barbarouses the provider as the Phoenix attacking midfielder rose brilliantly to nod past Duncan, off the inside of the lefthand upright.
Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre opted for a like-for-like halftime swap, with Matthew Ridenton coming on for Ryan Lowry who took a knock and in the second half Wellington started where they left off.
A foul on Bonevacia gave Finkler a freekick opportunity, but his effort clattered off the wall for a corner. From the resulting set piece it was Dylan Fox who climbed highest, thumping a fierce header onto the crossbar, but it fell nicely to the recently arrived Ridenton, who swept home nicely through a crowd of bodies to make it 3-0.
In the 56th minute Italiano had to be lively with a sharp double save, first from Andrew Nabbout and then Andrew Hoole before Parkhouse slid in well to remove the danger.
As the game began to open up, Watson marauded past one defender and into the box but two Jets defenders lunged in to prevent his cross, before Nabbout curled over after a good opening down Newcastle’s left.
Finkler made way after 65 minutes to hand young Academy graduate Sarpreet Singh his second A-League start and he’d scarcely been on when Jets handed Phoenix a fourth through a calamitous own goal from Jason Hoffman.
The fullback looked to clip a dangerous cross from Watson safely away but his studs appeared to grip the turf and he shanked it horribly into his own net past a dumbfounded Duncan.
It was all hands to the pump for the Jets as first Barbarouses then Bonevacia fancied their chances from distance.
Teenager Logan Rogerson came on for Watson and offered fresh pace and guile out wide, and with fulltime just around the corner it was his cross that was drilled home by Bonevacia for the fifth.
A deserved goal for the Dutch youth International to cap a memorable night at Westpac Stadium for Phoenix supporters.
Head Coach Des Buckingham was understandably pleased post-game not just with the younger players that came in, but also the manner in which the team set to their task.
“We’re not dead yet, we’ve got a pulse. We’ve got three important games coming up – three hard, tough games, but we’ve shown again … what these players are capable of doing.”
“I thought the players that came in this evening, especially across the back, Dylan Fox I thought was fantastic, Lewis Italiano made some fantastic saves at crucial times for us that allowed us to go on the way we did.”
But it was forward Barbarouses that attracted his special praise, especially with so many senior players absent.
“Kosta’s been fantastic for us, he has been all season. He’s not been given the credit he’s rightly deserved. I said two, three weeks ago when you watch the TV, when you watch it at home you miss a lot of work and the movement that Kosta does off the ball. But he showed that this week on the TV screen as well.”
“It’s another good thing [the return of All Whites players next week] for us and Chris to look at. Some freshness came into the group this week – some players stepped up tonight that might not have been playing otherwise with the more senior players kicking around and they’ve done themselves no harm at all.”