The Wellington Phoenix pulled off one of the biggest results in New Zealand football history when they beat English Premier League club West Ham United 2-1 at Auckland’s Eden Park on Wednesday night in front of almost 20,000 fans.
The Phoenix took the game to the Londoners from the outset and got their just reward for the enterprising start in the 11th minute when captain Andrew Durante, not noted as a goal scorer, glanced a header at the near post into the net from a wide free kick.
It was in the midfield where Albert Riera and Alex Rodriguez dominated their more illustrious opponents that the Phoenix took control of the game.
Riera took the “man of the match” award, but it could just as easily gone to Rodriguez, such was the class he displayed.
Nathan Burns, despite his lack of match play, also looked likely with his forceful running and sublime touches.
The highly-rated Hammers were stunned when Rodriguez gave the Phoenix a 2-0 lead in the 34th minute with a confident finish after Louis Fenton won the ball with a superb tackle.
It wasn’t till the 71st minute that West Ham pulled a goal back through Zarate and while the English side finished strongly the Phoenix held on for a historic win.
Coach Ernie Merrick was typically downbeat in assessing what the win meant to his team. “It was pleasing to play so well against such high-class opponents,” Merrick said.
“We have been going well against regional opposition but to step up against a high class side like West Ham was very satisfying.
“It is a terrific result for the club and a real confidence booster for the players, but we won’t get carried away by it.
“We have another big game against Newcastle United on Saturday and it will be hard to get the boys up for another big challenge.
“I left our first choice players on as long as I could but there were some very tired lads at the end. “We will have a look at them on Friday and decide on a team to meet Newcastle after training.”