The Wellington Phoenix have produced one of their best performances of the Isuzu UTE A-League season to consolidate their place in the top six.
The Phoenix have beaten Western United 3-0 at University of Tasmania Stadium in Launceston to snap a two-game losing skid and rise to fourth equal on the table.
Imports Yan Sasse, Bozhidar Kraev and Oskar Zawada scored Wellington’s goals and the Nix could have had several more in a dominant performance.
Western were unbeaten in their six previous matches in Tasmania, winning five and conceding just one goal, but they well beaten on Friday night.
Head coach Ufuk Talay was “very pleased” with the team’s response to back-to-back defeats.
“I think it was a complete performance tonight,” Talay told media post-game. “I thought we were very good with the ball, we broke them down very well, we played through the lines and created some good opportunities, and I thought defensively we dealt with a few of their long balls that they tried to play over the top.
“Overall very happy, especially after the last two weeks for the turnaround and the performance tonight.”
The Phoenix had lost eight points from winning positions in their past three matches and Talay was relieved that trend didn’t continue in Launceston.
“This season we’ve gone up and we haven’t held the lead as we’ve allowed teams to come back in.
“Tonight we definitely didn’t do that. We kept going, we found a second goal and then we got an opportunity with a penalty and we scored.”
Zawada converted from the spot, scoring the team’s first penalty of the season, after having their four previous, including one from Wellington’s top goal scorer, saved.
“I’m glad that Oskar stepped up again and was clinical.”
The Nix are now level on points with fourth-placed Western Sydney, who visit Adelaide United on Sunday.
“If we want to achieve what we want to achieve and make the top six, and even push to make the top four, we need to be consistent every week and play like this every week.
“We can’t be up and down. It’s very important that we play the way that we played tonight and continue on the run.”
Ufuk Talay named the same XI which started Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Macarthur FC. There was one change on the bench with experienced defender Scott Wootton returning from a five week lay-off in place of Finn Surman.
The Phoenix could have taken the lead as early as the 10th minute when Kraev slid Sasse through on goal. But Western ‘keeper Jamie Young made a great save, tipping the Brazilian’s shot narrowly around his right-hand post.
Young was called into action again just moments later, this time making a more regulation save to deny Kraev, who shot from the edge of the box.
The Nix were dangerous in transition and Steven Ugarkovic was the next to try his luck. Unfortunately for Ugarkovic he sprayed his shot wide after finding some space in the Western penalty area.
Sasse took his next opportunity in the 19th minute, blasting a shot past Young after cutting back on to his left foot and unleashing a powerful strike from outside the box.
The first-half opportunities dried up for Wellington after taking the lead, but they were relatively untroubled at the other end.
Serbian striker Aleksandar Prijovic caused the Phoenix a few problems, but other than a couple of set pieces Oli Sail was untested in goal in the first half.
The Nix pressed for a second goal at the start of the second-half. Kraev came close with a stretch volley in the 49th minute and Zawada smashed the left stanchion of Western’s goal shortly after.
The reigning champions too created their first real chance shortly after halftime, but Prijovic shot straight at Sail when he found some space in the Wellington box.
Moments later Western were picking up the ball up from the back of their net. Kraev was given space in midfield and then unleashed a curling shot that Young was powerless to stop.
The Bulgarian won a penalty shortly after and for the first time this season the Phoenix converted from the spot. Zawada stepped up to take the penalty and while Young guessed the right way he was unable to stop the shot, which nestled in the right-hand corner of his goal.
Zawada had a great opportunity to make it 4-0 in the 70th minute, but he was denied by the strong right hand of Western’s ‘keeper.
Sail too made a great reflex save 12 minutes from fulltime to tip a Lachie Wales volley over the bar.
It secured the Nix their third clean sheet of the season, but they had opportunities to add to the scoreline in time added on.
David Ball glanced a header off target from six yards out and Zawada mishit a chip when he was one-on-one with Young in the Western box.
But three-nil it remained until the final whistle, with Wellington securing their first points of their February away from home.
The Wellington Phoenix men have their fourth and final road match of the month next week. They will travel home to Wellington on Saturday before turning their attentions to Friday night’s match against the Central Coast Mariners in Gosford.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (4. Scott WOOTTON 90+3), 12. Lucas MAURAGIS (19. Sam SUTTON 59th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 21. Joshua LAWS, 31. Yan SASSE (8. Ben OLD 82nd).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 15. Nikko BOXALL, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM.
Western United: 1. Jamie YOUNG (gk), 4. Leo LACROIX, 6. Tomoki IMAI, 7. Tongo DOUMBIA (42. Rhys BOZINOVSKI 80th), 8. Lachlan WALES (9. Michael RUHS 80th), 14. James TROISI (11. Connor PAIN 60th), 24. Connor O’TOOLE, 27. Jacob TRATT (31. Adisu BAYEW 80th), 38. Noah BOTIC (23. Alessandro DIAMANTI 60th), 88. Neil KILKENNY (c), 99. Aleksandar PRIJOVIC.
Unused substitutes: 37. Ryan SCOTT (gk), 5. Dylan PIERIAS.
31. Yan SASSE (Wellington Phoenix) – 19th
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – 58th
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – 64th pen
99. Aleksandar PRIJOVIC (Western United) – yellow – 9th
17. Callan ELLIOT (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 27th
23. Alessandro DIAMANTI (Western United) – yellow – 79th