The Wellington Phoenix are off to their best ever start to an Isuzu UTE A-League season.
The Phoenix have run away with a resounding 5-2 win over the Brisbane Roar in their third round match at Sky Stadium in Wellington, courtesy of Oskar Zawada’s maiden A-League hat-trick.
Tim Payne also scored his first league goal, while Bozhidar Kraev found the back of the net for the second straight match to take Wellington’s points tally to seven and at least temporarily moves the Nix to the top of the competition ladder.
“Stop the race that’s what I say,” Italiano told media post-game. “I’m very pleased with the overall performance if you put into context conceding a goal in the first minute.
“The fact that the boys rallied straight after that, they settled down, they were really good for large parts and a lot of the stuff we worked on during the week came to fruition.
“I’m happy that we scored five goals. I’m probably more happy with the fact that we came back from a goal deficit after the first minute. The boys really rallied together and showed a lot of character.
“I did say the focus would be on attacking football and there might be some games where it doesn’t work…but we’re going to try and play.
“Every week that you’ve seen us we’re getting more and more confident with the ball.”
Zawada now has four goals in three matches, after scoring 15 last season and Italiano believes he’s capable of surpassing that mark in the 2023-24 campaign.
“Teams are scared. It’s just a matter of us getting him in positions where we think that he can score, but not taking away from his qualities.
“Now he’s going to be formidable. It’s just a matter of keeping that mindset and carrying it through for the rest of the year.
“Hopefully he keeps going like that because he could be the best striker in the league.”
Giancarlo Italiano named the same XI which started last week’s 2-1 win over Perth Glory but made two changes on the bench. Reserves goalkeeper Alby Kelly-Heald replaced the ill Jack Duncan, while fit-again fullback Sam Sutton came in for Josh Rudland.
The Phoenix found themselves a goal down barely 30 seconds into the match, with Frenchman Florin Berenguer finding some space in the Wellington box and slotting his shot past Alex Paulsen.
The Nix equaliser in the 24th minute came via the most unlikely of sources with Payne scoring in his 93rd A-League match. The fullback burst forward into the Brisbane area, cut onto his left foot and blasted a shot past Macklin Freke in the Roar goal.
The visitors gifted the Phoenix their second shortly after the half hour mark, with Zawada pouncing on a wayward back pass by Roar captain Thomas Aldred and passing into an empty net.
The Polish striker came within millimetres of scoring his second shortly before halftime when he struck the far post after being slipped into the Brisbane box by Mo Al-Taay and getting around Freke.
The Roar were fortunate to not go 3-1 down shortly after the second half kicked off when another misdirected back pass by Aldred came within inches of creeping inside Freke’s near post.
Instead it was the visitors scoring the next goal, with Nicolas Mileusnic’s deflected effort wrong footing Paulsen in the 53rd minute.
Kraev restored the Phoenix’s lead five minutes later when he split the two Brisbane centre backs and perfectly curled a left-footed shot around the Roar ‘keeper.
Zawada made it 4-2 in the 62nd when he nodded home from close-range after Lukas Kelly-Heald stood up a cross that eluded Freke.
The Nix professionally saw out the final half an hour, with Sutton, making his first appearance of the season, and Isaac Hughes coming on in the final quarter of an hour.
Paulsen made a good save in the 88th minute to deny the Roar a late lifeline, tipping a shot from Brisbane substitute Carlo Armiento over his bar.
Zawada completed the scoring and his hat-trick in the second minute of time added on, when a hard-working Nicholas Pennington won possession high up the pitch and picked out the Polish striker at the back post.
The Wellington Phoenix will be back in action on Friday night when they visit fellow high-flyers Melbourne Victory.
Wellington Phoenix: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (26. Isaac HUGHES 86th), 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (19. Sam SUTTON 79th), 12. Mohamed AL-TAAY (8. Ben OLD 56th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD.
Unused substitutes: 30. Alby KELLY-HEALD (gk), 10. David BALL, 42. Fergus GILLION, 52. Jackson MANUEL.
Brisbane Roar: 1. Macklin FREKE (gk), 2. Scott NEVILLE, 5. Thomas ALDRED (c), 6. Joe CALETTI (12. Taras GOMULKA 79th), 7. Florin BERENGUER (8. Jonas MARKOVSKI 79th), 10. Nikola MILEUSNIC, 13. Henry HORE (17. Carlo ARMIENTO 63rd), 16. Thomas WADDINGHAM (14. Rylan BROWNLIE 73rd), 26. Jay O’SHEA, 27. Kai TREWIN (23. Aaron REARDON 46th), 35. Louis ZABALA.
Unused substitutes: 29. Matthew ACTON (gk), 32. James NIKOLOVSKI.
7. Florin BERENGUER (Brisbane Roar) – 1st
6. Tim PAYNE (Wellington Phoenix) – 24th
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – 32nd, 62nd & 90+2
10. Nikola MILEUSNIC (Brisbane Roar) – 53rd
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – 58th
12. Mohamed AL-TAAY (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 33rd
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 80th