Wellington Phoenix’s Costa Rican connection helped break the shackles and give the hosts a 5-0 win over a hapless Melbourne Victory at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
A brace to Carlos Hernandez and a screamer of a goal to Kenny Cunningham gave the hosts a deserving 3-0 lead at half-time.
As such Victory coach Kevin Muscat’s young men, who enjoyed a 3-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers, had no response to a side who have won four of their last five matches and found a rich vein of attacking football in the process.
Instead it was Jeremy Brockie and Stein Huysegems who scored two late goals in the second half to give the Phoenix their second-largest win in their history.
Wellington’s third-ever win over the Victory saw them remain in contention for the top six but more importantly it doubled their tally of goals at Westpac Stadium.
Victory’s loss meant they were unable to move into second place and instead hold onto third place with 23 points.
The loss was an especially disappointing one for former Phoenix star Kosta Barbarouses in what was his first time back in Wellington since returning from playing in Greece with Panathinaikos.
The most surprising move of the night was coach Ernie Merrick’s substitution of Hernandez five minutes after half-time. His exit gave 17-year-old Matthew Ridenton his third opportunity as Merrick’s development mission continues.
Hernandez and Cunningham weren’t the only two players to shine on a beautiful Saturday evening.
Albert Riera, fresh from signing a one-year extension with the club, played his best match in a Phoenix jersey thanks to a number of timely interceptions and key tackles ahead of a solid back four.
He joins Hernandez and improving defender Michael Boxall as players to have recommitted with Merrick for next season in an ever-improving sign for the future of football in New Zealand’s capital.
The confidence gained from winning three of their last four matches shone through early at Westpac Stadium and it wasn’t long before the hosts had their first opportunity of the match.
Hernandez opening goal was his first in open play for his Wellington club and came after a superb delivery that saw Tyler Boyd suck in a defender and allow the Costa Rican to score his second for the club.
It looked to be the only goal of the half until Cunningham’s strike from 40 metres out doubled the hosts advantage to the delight of the Yellow Fever.
If they were satisfied with a two-goal advantage the home supporters were elated when less than a minute later Hernandez scored his second goal of the match and gave the hosts a 3-0 half-time lead.
The second half provided fewer opportunities for either side as Melbourne Victory looked a step behind their opponents.
Barbarouses did his best to ignite his side and nearly had an assist only for Archie Thompson’s diving effort falling into the arms of Glen Moss.
Brockie was introduced after 80 minutes and made an immediate impact with a goal and an assist for Huysegems’ goal to provide Merrick with an intriguing contest for starting spots for their next encounter.
Much had been spoken about Boxall’s development and the opportunities it would provide for Melbourne’s attacking lynchpins in Thompson and Barbarouses. Instead the muscular fullback proved he is advancing well under Merrick – a snapshot of the team’s progress in general.
Wellington Phoenix: 5 Goals: Hernandez 21′, 47′(pen), Cunningham 46′, Brockie 85′, Huysegems 87′
Melbourne Victory: 0