The Wellington Phoenix have celebrated their 150th win in the Isuzu UTE A-League and taken a major step towards securing a place in this year’s finals.
The Phoenix have beaten Sydney FC 1-0 at Eden Park in Auckland, extending their unbeaten run at New Zealand’s national stadium to 10 matches and consolidating their place in the top six.
The Nix are now in a three-way tie for third place, four points above sixth-placed Sydney FC and seven clear of the Newcastle Jets, who are leading the chasing pack.
A thumping first-half header from Oskar Zawada was the difference between the two sides with the Polish striker taking his goal tally for the season to 12, with nine coming in his last 10 matches.
Zawada delivered despite a sleepless week as he anxiously awaited a call from his wife to return to Wellington for the birth of their first child.
“I thank his wife Patricia for holding on for this game,” head coach Ufuk Talay told media post-game. “He stayed, he was focused, and he wanted to play…and he got his goal.”
The Nix had to fight to hold on for the milestone win.
“I thought we were good in patches today,” Talay said.
“I think we were a little bit too safe at times. I think the importance of the game got in the players heads.”
Talay again switched to a back five in the second-half to defend the lead.
“It’s two weeks in a row that the boys have defended quite well.
“The most important thing at this time of the season is we pick up three points and it gives us a bit of a buffer from Newcastle and Sydney.
“We’re at the back end of the season where it’s very important that we win our home games.
“Before the Newcastle game I said these two games are very important to slowly settle the top six.”
Ufuk Talay named the same XI and bench which started last week’s 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets.
The visitors had the first shot of the match, with Oli Sail called into action in the ninth minute to save a long-range effort from Sydney winger Diego Caballo.
A few minutes later both sides had opportunities to open the scoring. Wellington fullback Callan Elliot dragged a shot narrowly wide of Andrew Redmayne’s left-hand post from a well-worked set piece before Robert Mak rattled Sail’s left-hand post with a shot from the top of the box.
Zawada broke the deadlock in the 20th minute, outmuscling his opponent at the back post and thumping his header past Redmayne after Lucas Mauragis hung up a left-wing cross.
Sail denied Sydney an opportunity to level the scores half an hour into the game, parrying away a curling left-footed shot from Joe Lolley.
David Ball came within inches of doubling the Phoenix’s lead in the 37th minute, when he cleverly flicked on a corner from Yan Sasse. The Sky Blues kept a man on the near post and managed to clear Ball’s goal-bound header off the line.
Moments later Redmayne was forced to produce a top drawer save to keep out a powerful long-range shot from Sasse.
Sydney held on to ensure they trailed by just one goal at halftime and they pressed for an equaliser in the second half.
The visitors started dominating possession and much of the second 45 was played in the Wellington half. But the Sky Blues had little to show for their dominance.
The next chance in fact well to Zawada, who wasn’t quite able to deflect an enticing Steven Ugarkovic cross on goal in the 63rd minute.
Sydney’s best opportunity came 10 minutes later when Anthony Caceres found some space in the Phoenix box. But Sail was able to save Caceres’ shot and Paulo Retre flashed his follow-up narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
Talay responding by bringing centre back Josh Laws on for Sasse and switching to a back five.
The move worked with the visitors mostly reduced to long-range shots and Sail was largely untroubled in the Wellington goal for the remainder of the match.
The Wellington Phoenix held on for a crucial three points and face another major challenge on Friday night when they visit second-placed Adelaide United.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (7. Kosta BARBAROUSES 58th), 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 31. Yan SASSE (21. Joshua LAWS 75th).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 8. Ben OLD, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 15. Nikko BOXALL, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM.
Sydney FC: 1. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 2. James DONACHIE, 3. Joel KING, 4. Alexander WILKINSON (c), 8. Paulo RETRE (21. Alexander PARSONS 79th), 10. Joseph LOLLEY (6. Jack RODWELL 79th), 11. Robert MAK (12. Patrick WOOD 85th), 17. Anthony CACERES, 18. Diego CABALLO (25. Jaiden KUCHARSKI 70th), 23. Rhyan GRANT, 26. Luke BRATTAN.
Unused substitutes: 30. Adam PAVLESIC (gk), 29. Aaron GURD, 32. Matthew SCARCELLA.
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – 21st
31. Yan SASSE (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 41st
26. Luke BRATTAN (Sydney FC) – yellow – 77th