Many of Wellington’s squad players saw vital match minutes as Phoenix arrived in NSW for their pre-season tour, finishing 2-1 at Lily’s Football Centre in Blacktown on Sunday.
A first glimpse of new Serbian striker Andrija Kaludjerovic was a highlight for Phoenix faithful as Wellington succumbed to FFA Cup giant-slayers Blacktown City on a gorgeous Sydney spring afternoon.
Wellington took the opportunity to blood several Academy players as well as get some vital minutes into the legs of key first team players such as Ali Abbas and Marco Rossi, with defender Dylan Fox looking especially imposing at the back in a match of few clear-cut goal opportunities.
It was a comfortable start for the visitors as both sides looked to feel each other out in the first twenty minutes. Youngster Luke Tongue drew the first save of the match with a looping deflected shot from outside the box, before Blacktown’s Mitch Mallia gave Oli Sail a tester in goals minutes later.
The game sparked to life in the 22nd minute when Alex Rufer rifled one home from outside the box. Nice work from Logan Rogerson saw a half window open and the centre midfielder belted it home from 20-odd metres into the top left-hand corner of the goal, giving the Blacktown ‘keeper no chance.
If the lead was deserved on the balance of play Phoenix let themselves down minutes later after Blacktown hit on a sharp counter attack down their right. A dangerous ball across was well-paried by Sail but the loose ball fell kindly to Joey Gibbs who lashed home through a crowd of bodies.
Playing at No.10 Tongue then drew another fine save from Tristan Prendergast with an effort from outside the box that was tipped round the post, before a fine recovery from Tinashe Marowa prevented a one-on-one opportunity for Mallia in the 30th minute.
Blacktown were handed a chance to go in ahead at half-time after Ryan Lowry was marginally late with a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge in the box, drawing a penalty from the match official. No mistake from Gibbs who lashed down the middle for his second of the match.
Rossi made way at half-time for another Academy graduate Jack-Henry Sinclair, as Abbas crafted two excellent crosses in two minutes as Phoenix looked to hit straight back.
Playing on the counter, Mallia was at the centre of Blacktown’s best actions, and he combined well with captain Matt Lewis, before dragging a shot across Sail’s goal just on the hour mark.
Tom Doyle entered the fray as Abbas got another good hour under his belt after a long absence from competitve football, before a terrific pass from Parkhouse almost picked out the new man.
With twenty minutes to go new Serbian striker Kaludjerovic saw his first minutes in a Nix shirt, and immediately showed some sharp touches.
As Phoenix looked to finish the stronger, Matt Ridenton crashed a wickedly-whipped free-kick against the crossbar before Kaludjerovic nearly got on the end of a fine one-two with Marowa.
The scoreboard attendants weren’t bothered further as it finished 2-1. Wellington keeping most of their bigger names up their sleeves for Tuesday night’s friendly clash with the Mariners.
Sail; Lowry, Fox, Rossi (Sinclair 45′), Abbas (Doyle 60′); Ridenton, Rufer, Marowa, Tongue (Kaludjerovic 70′), Parkhouse; Rogerson
Unused: Italiano, Mullen, Galloway, Paracki, Finkler, McGlinchey, Singh, Krishna, Durante
Wellington Phoenix Pre-Season Tour:
v Central Coast Mariners, Tues 12 September, 7pm, Pluim Park
v Newcastle Jets, Sat 16 September, 3pm, Cessnock Sports Ground