The Wellington Phoenix have produced the upset of the Liberty A-League season.
The bottom of the table Phoenix have stunned league leaders Sydney FC 1-0 at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Sydney, thanks to a first-half goal from centre back Kate Taylor.
It was nothing less than the Nix deserved as they outplayed the perennial title contenders for most of the match.
Head coach Natalie Lawrence was bursting with pride after the final whistle.
“I feel so proud and happy for the girls,” Lawrence said post-match. “They’ve worked so hard and they’ve kept the belief.
“We’ve had the message the whole season that this team is going to do go things and I think this result was coming.
“We knew we were going to win more games and beating top of the league makes it that little bit more special and gives us even more belief.
“It wasn’t just the win, it was how we did it. We out possessed them, we got more shots than them and we got into the box more than they did.
“There’s a brand of football we’ve been trying to play all season and we’re now starting to reap the rewards of it.”
Lawrence only re-joined the squad in Sydney on Friday night, having spent the week in Auckland starting her pro coaching licence.
“There was no impact from me being away. As a head coach I look at that and look at the culture we’re creating at this club and I can be nothing but proud.
“If you can leave and nothing changes, the standards stay high, the messages are the same and the work continues to build, then you’re on to a pretty good thing.”
It is Wellington’s second win of the season and moves them just a point behind second-to-bottom Newcastle Jets with a game in hand.
They are hungry for more victories over the remaining four rounds.
“We want more points. We’ve got the feeling and the feeling’s good, and we want to continue that, but we have to keep to our process and we have to do it better than anyone else.
“We’ve now got more points than we did last season, but we now want to get even more and we want to get off the bottom of the league and we want to do it in style.”
Natalie Lawrence made two changes to the XI, which started last week’s 1-1 draw with Brisbane Roar, with Emma Rolston and Paige Satchell coming into the side in place of Ava Pritchard and Milly Clegg.
Pritchard and Clegg were named amongst the substitutes, which also included the returning Georgia Candy and Zoe McMeeken. Candy had missed the past two matches with concussion.
Rolston made an almost immediate impact, but unfortunately her third minute cross was too close to Sydney goalkeeper Katie Offer.
Sky Blues forward Princess Ibini had the first shot of the game a couple of minutes later. However, it was partially blocked and didn’t trouble the Wellington goal.
Phoenix goalkeeper Brianna Edwards did well to palm away another deflected shot from Sydney in the 15th minute, this time from defender Anna Green.
Stand-in skipper Chloe Knott and fellow midfielder Grace Wisnewski took a couple of long-range shots before the drinks break, but were unable to test Offer.
The Nix took charge after the refreshments, with Betsy Hassett becoming increasingly influential in the Wellington midfield.
After a strong run down the right flank, Satchell burst out of the centre of midfield in the 31st minute and forced a good save from Sydney’s ‘keeper.
Taylor gave the Phoenix the lead from the resulting corner, expertly volleying through a crowd of bodies with her left-foot after Offer was unable to deal with Michaela Foster’s delivery.
Betsy Hassett had a chance to double the Nix’s lead in the 40th minute after a lung-busting run from Mackenzie Barry, but Hassett’s first-time shot from the edge of the area was off target.
The Phoenix finished the first half having dominated possession (58-42%) while also creating more goalscoring opportunities than their much-vaunted opponents.
The Nix looked to add to their advantage at the start of the second half. Marisa van der Meer headed over the bar from a Foster free-kick and Rolston was denied at the near post after a great run and cross from Satchell.
Sydney started to threaten Wellington’s goal after the hour mark, with Edwards making two comfortable saves, holding on to shots from Ibini and substitute Rola Badawiya.
Clegg had the chance to score the Phoenix’s second shortly after coming off the bench when she caught the hosts’ back four on the break, but Offer produced a great save to parry away the teenager’s shot.
The Nix came within inches of scoring from the resulting set piece, with Badawiya producing an incredible goal-line clearance to deny Foster straight from the corner.
The Sky Blues’ best chance of the match came in the 76th minute when Cortnee Vine broke free down the right flank and teed by Mackenzie Hawkesby in the box. However, Hawkesby was foiled by Edwards who managed to deflect her shot around the post.
Sydney were otherwise reduced to long-range shots, with Wellington producing the better chances over the final quarter of an hour.
Michaela Robertson dragged a shot narrowly off target after getting the better of her defender, while some last-ditch defending denied van der Meer and Hassett from making it two-nil.
The Wellington Phoenix will enjoy their flight home tomorrow before turning their attentions to next Saturday’s match against Perth Glory at Sky Stadium.
Wellington Phoenix: 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 3. Kate TAYLOR, 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER, 7. Chloe KNOTT (c), 8. Grace WISNEWSKI (10. Alyssa WHINHAM, 75th), 11. Betsy HASSETT, 13. Paige SATCHELL (20. Milly CLEGG 61st), 14. Michaela ROBERTSON (15. Zoe MCMEEKEN 85th), 16. Emma ROLSTON (9. Ava PRITCHARD 74th), 21. Michaela FOSTER.
Unused substitutes: 22. Georgia CANDY (gk).
Sydney FC: 30. Katie OFFER (gk), 2. Mary STANIC-FLOODY (22. Indiana DOS SANTOS 51st), 4. Anna GREEN, 5. Kirsty FENTON, 6. Sarah HUNTER, 8. Rachel LOWE (25. Rola BADAWIYA 61st), 11. Cortnee VINE, 15. Mackenzie HAWKESBY, 16. Deborah-Anne DE LA HARPE, 19. Charlie RULE, 20. Princess IBINI-ISEI (c).
Unused substitutes: 60. Jasmine BLACK (gk), 7. Teigan COLLISTER, 26. Margaux CHAUVET.
3. Kate TAYLOR (Wellington Phoenix) – 32nd
21. Michaela FOSTER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 45+2
2. Mary STANIC-FLOODY (Sydney FC) – yellow – 49th
5. Kirsty FENTON(Sydney FC) – yellow – 90+4