The Wellington Phoenix have jumped into the top six of the Isuzu UTE A-League courtesy of an impressive home victory.
The Phoenix have beaten Adelaide United 3-1 in front of a boisterous crowd at Sky Stadium in Wellington, with goals from the team’s three new imports.
Polish striker Oskar Zawada opened the scoring in the second minute, Bulgarian international Bozhidar Kraev found the back of the net for the fourth straight match to give Wellington a 2-1 halftime lead and Brazilian playmaker Yan Sasse scored his first goal for the club.
Adelaide had to play the majority of the second-half with 10 men after midfielder Benjamin Halloran was sent off for a second bookable offence.
The Nix’s second win of the season lifts them to fourth on the ladder, for the time being at least.
Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay stopped short of calling the performance the team’s best of the season.
“I thought we were good,” Talay told media post-match. “Besides the free-kick and when Payney (Tim Payne) slipped in the box…other than that did they really create anything? I don’t think so.”
“The frustrating part for me was…the 10 minutes after the player got sent off. I thought we were a little bit too casual, a little bit too sloppy and were wanted to score straight away when we had the extra man on the park.
“There were little moments where I think we can be better at what we do.”
Talay says the three points are crucial as it was their sixth home game in the opening eight rounds.
“It’s very important that we maximise our home games. I think we’ve given up too many points at home.
“We need to continue the momentum now, build on that and continue to get more wins and points on the board.”
Ufuk Talay named an unchanged XI for just the second time this season. There was a notable change on the bench, with club captain Alex Rufer replacing Sam Sutton. It was the first time Rufer had been included in a matchday squad since he ruptured the ACL in his left knee in March.
“It’s nice to see Rufs back in the changing room,” Talay said. “He’s our captain and he’s one of our leaders in the changing room so it was nice to see him back with the group.”
Zawada gave the Phoenix a dream start, putting the hosts in front little over 60 seconds from kick-off. The imposing Polish striker slipped in between two Adelaide defenders, brought down a direct ball from Payne and blasted a volley past Adelaide ‘keeper Joe Gauci.
Socceroos’ World Cup hero Craig Goodwin drew Adelaide level just 10 minutes later. He announced his return to the A-League with a wonderful free-kick from 25 yards out, finding the top left corner of Oli Sail’s goal.
Sail was called into action half an hour into the match to deny Japanese forward Hiroshi Ibusuki, but otherwise his opposite was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers in the first half.
Gauci made a great reflex save to deny David Ball in the 20th minute, after a promising passage of play from the Nix.
Ball was denied again 10 minutes out from halftime. This time it was a goal-line clearance from Adelaide centre back Alexandar Popovic that prevented the Englishman from restoring Wellington’s lead.
The Phoenix went ahead moments later. Callan Elliott delivered a fantastic right wing cross to the back post which Kraev met with a thunderous diving header that Gauci was powerless to stop.
The Nix looked more likely to add a third goal before the break but had to be content with a 2-1 halftime lead.
Adelaide United’s task got tougher little over five minutes in the second-half when Halloran was sent off.
Sasse was looking increasingly dangerous for the hosts, with Adelaide defender Ryan Kitto having to produce a last-ditch block to deny the Brazilian playmaker from six yards out in the 60th minute.
Moments later the Phoenix had their third goal, with a deflected strike from Sasse wrong-footing Gauci and nestling into the back of the net.
Popovic thought he’d pulled a goal back for the Reds in the 65th minute but he was deemed to be offside.
It was to be one of the few Adelaide chances in the second-half.
The Nix should have made it 4-1 inside the final quarter of an hour when Kraev won a penalty. But Gauci denied the Bulgarian from the spot with a fine full-stretch save down low to his right.
Some last-ditch defending from Adelaide also prevented substitute Kosta Barbarouses from getting on the score sheet.
With the game in control Talay was able to bring on Rufer for the final few minutes to give him his first taste of A-League football in nine months.
The Wellington Phoenix have one more game before Christmas. They will travel to Perth on Wednesday for the distance derby against the Glory on Friday night.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC (13. Nicholas PENNINGTON 90th), 6. Tim PAYNE, 9. Oskar ZAWADA (18. Ben WAINE 80th), 10. David BALL (7. Kosta BARBAROUSES 73rd), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 23. Clayton LEWIS (14. Alex RUFER 90th), 31. Yan SASSE (8. Ben OLD 80th).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS.
Adelaide United: 46. Joe GAUCI (gk), 6. Louis D’ARRIGO, 7. Ryan KITTO, 9. Hiroshi IBUSUKI (14. George BLACKWOOD 80th), 11. Craig GOOWDIN (c), 13. Lachlan BARR, 21. Javi LOPEZ, 26. Benjamin HALLORAN, 28. JUANDE, 41. Alexandar POPOVIC, 55. Ethan ALAGICH (66. Nestory IRANKUNDA 63rd).
Unused substitutes: 1. James DELIANOV (gk), 4. Nicholas ANSELL, 27. Joshua CAVALLO, 36. Panashe MADANHA, 37. Jonny YULL.
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – 2nd
11. Craig GOOWDIN (Adelaide United) – 12th
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – 37th
31. Yan SASSE (Wellington Phoenix) – 61st
26. Benjamin HALLORAN (Adelaide United) – yellow – 26th
41. Alexandar POPOVIC (Adelaide United) – yellow – 42nd
26. Benjamin HALLORAN (Adelaide United) – yellow/red – 51st
23. Clayton LEWIS (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 81st
4. Scott WOOTTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 85th
66. Nestory IRANKUNDA (Adelaide United) – yellow – 90+3