The Wellington Phoenix’s Isuzu UTE A-League season has again come to an end in the first week of the finals.
The Phoenix have been beaten 2-0 by Adelaide United in their elimination final at Coopers Stadium in Adelaide, with Reds captain Craig Goodwin scoring a goal in each half.
It is the fourth elimination final defeat in five years for the Nix, while Adelaide progress to a home and away semi-final against Central Coast Mariners.
Wellington mistakes led to both of Goodwin’s goals, the second of which came from the penalty spot.
The Phoenix only managed two shots on target in the match; one in the opening seconds and the second in second half stoppage time, but captain Alex Rufer also hit the post on the stroke of halftime, coming within inches of levelling the scores.
Head coach Ufuk Talay is disappointed to have bowed out in such fashion.
“Two mistakes cost us two goals,” Talay told media post-match. “One we didn’t clear the ball and the second one we didn’t kill the game from our set piece and allowed them to get in our box.
“We had an opportunity from a set piece where the ball hits the post and doesn’t go in.
“I thought we were in the game, even at 1-nil. To concede the second goal the way that we did is very disappointing.
“Overall, I think we played a good game. They were clinical in two moments from two big mistakes of ours and we walk away losing the game two-nil.”
The defeat signals the end of Talay’s four years in charge of the Nix, while a number of Wellington players, including Oli Sail, Clayton Lewis and Steven Ugarkovic have played their final game for the club.
“It’s been a challenging four seasons to be honest. Being away for two seasons, based in Australia, because of Covid was challenging times, but there were a lot of moments for growth for myself.
“I have a lot of gratitude towards this club. They gave me my first opportunity as a head coach to showcase my talents.
“I’ve worked alongside some very special people and I’ll watching from afar.”
He believes he’s leaving the club in good hands, with assistant coach Giancarlo “Chiefy” Italiano to take over next season.
“The club’s in a fantastic spot at the moment. They’ve got a good core group of players that are retained for next season. That’s something for Chiefy to build on.
“Facilities wise and academy wise the club is in a fantastic space. The club’s heading in the right direction and is in a fantastic place moving forward.”
Ufuk Talay named the same XI which started last week’s 1-0 win over Macarthur FC. There was one change on the bench, with Finn Surman replacing fellow centre back Nikko Boxall, who didn’t travel to Adelaide because of illness.
It was an action packed start to the elimination final.
Adelaide goalkeeper Joe Gauci was called into action little over 60 seconds into the match, forced to make a sharp save to his right after Oskar Zawada won possession high up the park and unleashed a powerful left-footed shot from the edge of the area.
Moments later the Reds had their first opportunity with fullback Javi Lopez heading wide at the back post from the first corner of the match.
Adelaide started dominating possession while the Phoenix were dangerous in transition. Kosta Barbarouses produced a great right-wing cross in the 12th minute, but Gauci was able to beat Zawada to the ball, punching to clear away the danger.
The Nix found themselves a goal down from the Reds’ first shot on target little over half a dozen minutes later, when the visitors failed to clear a right-wing cross. Goodwin pounced, cutting on to his less favoured right foot and curling a shot into the far corner of Wellington’s goal.
The hosts continued to dictate terms after taking the lead, without testing Phoenix ‘keeper Oli Sail. Striker George Blackwood and defender Nicholas Ansell both headed dangerous crosses off target.
The Nix finished the first half the stronger of the two sides. Yan Sasse pulled a shot narrowly wide of Gauci’s left-hand post from outside the box, before Zawada went down in the Adelaide box but had his penalty claim waved away by referee Alireza Faghani.
The Reds then rode their luck in time added on. Rufer struck the post from a corner, and it rebounded off Lopez and fortunately for the hosts into the arms of his ‘keeper.
Talay had to make his first substitution at halftime with Barbarouses forced off with an apparent hamstring strain and replaced by Bozhidar Kraev.
The second half started how the first finished, with the Phoenix pressing for an equaliser. Adelaide made two crucial blocks in their box to deny goal-bound shots from first Scott Wootton and then Kraev.
But with their speed the Reds always looked dangerous on the counter and they broke quickly from a Nix free-kick on the edge of the area to earn a penalty in the 65th minute and give themselves an opportunity to double their lead.
Goodwin duly stepped up to the spot after winning the penalty and slotted his shot up the middle after Sail dived to his right.
Wellington searched for a way back into the match, but struggled to breakdown a well organised and desperate Adelaide defence. And every time the Phoenix pushed numbers forward they were susceptible in transition with Reds substitute Nestory Irankunda a regular threat.
The closest the Nix came to getting on the scoresheet in normal time came in the 71st minute when Zawada looped a header narrowly over the far corner of Adelaide’s goal, after Kraev delivered a threatening left-wing cross.
Gauci only had to make one save in the second half and it came in the fifth and final minute of time added on when Wellington substitute Clayton Lewis struck a powerful shot in the box. He stopped it acrobatically to keep the clean sheet and seal the Reds’ progression beyond the first round of the finals.
The Wellington Phoenix will make the long journey home on Saturday before soon turning their attentions to next season.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 86th), 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (11. Bozhidar KRAEV 46th), 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 14. Alex RUFER (c) (23. Clayton LEWIS 68th), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 31. Yan SASSE.
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 21. Josh LAWS.
Adelaide United: 46. Joe GAUCI (gk), 3. Benjamin WARLAND, 4. Nicholas ANSELL (13. Lachlan BARR 86th), 6. Louis D’ARRIGO, 7. Ryan KITTO, 8. ISAIAS, 11. Craig GOODWIN (c), 14. George BLACKWOOD (9. Hiroshi IBUSUKI 64th), 18. Jay BARNETT (66. Nestory IRANKUNDA 64th), 21. Javi LOPEZ, 26. Benjamin HALLORAN (55. Ethan ALAGICH 86th).
Unused substitutes: 1. James DELIANOV (gk), 35. Luka JOVANOVIC, 36. Panashe MADANHA.
11. Craig GOODWIN (Adelaide United) – 19th
11. Craig GOODWIN (Adelaide United) – 67th pen
7. Ryan KITTO (Adelaide United) – yellow – 34th
31. Yan SASSE (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 80th
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 83rd
26. Benjamin HALLORAN (Adelaide United) – yellow – 85th
55. Ethan ALAGICH (Adelaide United) – yellow – 90+1