Match Review: Wellington Phoenix vs Central Coast Mariners

The Wellington Phoenix have extended their club record unbeaten run to 13 matches after producing a gritty and determined performance to secure their first win of the 2021/22 Isuzu UTE A-League Men season.

The Phoenix have beaten the Central Coast Mariners 2-1 at WIN Stadium in Wollongong, thanks to goals from Gary Hooper and Jaushua Sotirio.

After a scoreless first half, Hooper broke the deadlock in the 48th minute, scoring his second goal in as many games after a bit of pinball in the 18-yard box.

Costa Rican Marcos Urena equalised for the Mariners four minutes later, after a mistake from Wellington defender Josh Laws, but Sotirio, who started in place of Ben Waine in the one change to the Phoenix XI, put his side back in front in the 63rd minute. The Nix held on bravely over the final half an hour to claim all three points.

Wellington started the brighter of the two sides, with Hooper and David Ball both having shots inside the first five minutes.

Phoenix goalkeeper Oli Sail wasn’t called into action until almost a quarter of an hour had gone by when the ever dangerous Urena found space just outside the 18-yard box. Sail was quick to react, parrying his shot away to safety.

Central Coast enjoyed a good spell of possession for the next period of play and Sail had to make another two smart saves. Both came in the 20th minute and both efforts were from Mariners captain Oliver Bozanic, who was twice teed up just outside the area.

The next opportunity fell to Hooper midway through the first-half when he had a go from 25 yards out, but his attempt went wide of Mark Birighitti’s right post.

Phoenix defender James McGarry forced Birighitti into his second save of the match in the 32nd minute, but it would have been ruled out if McGarry had found the back of the net.

Sotirio also had a half-volley sail just over the bar as it remained 0-0 at halftime.

The Nix broke the deadlock just three minutes into the second half, with Hooper turning the ball past Birighitti after the Englishman showed great strength to hold off the ‘keeper from a corner.

The lead was short lived however as four minutes later Urena pounced on a under-hit back pass from Laws and slid the ball past Sail in the Wellington goal.

Sail was able to deny the Costa Rican a second just moments later, getting down low to his left to save a shot after Urena had managed to get a shot away inside the area.

Sotirio then restored the Phoenix’s one goal advantage in the 63rd minute when his shot came off the legs of Central Coast defender Jacob Farrell and nestled inside the right post of the Mariners’ goal.

Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay made his first substitutions immediately after they reclaimed the lead, handing a debut to Nicholas Pennington, who replaced captain Alex Rufer, while Ben Waine came on for Hooper.

Talay was forced to make further changes when right back Callan Elliot hurt his shoulder in an aerial collision and Sotirio suffered an ankle injury. Fit again defender Louis Fenton and young midfielder Ben Old were their replacements.

Old won the Nix a penalty shortly after his introduction and Waine stepped up to take it. Unfortunately Birighitti guessed right and denied the young Wellington forward from the spot.

But the Phoenix were not left to rue the missed opportunity as they saw the game out and at least momentarily moved to the top of the A-League ladder.

“I’m not really big into stats but it’s nice to go 13 unbeaten,” Talay told media post-match.

“I’d like to go 13 unbeaten with three points every single game, but that hasn’t happened.

“It was most important that we pick up points early within the season, which we haven’t done previously in our last two seasons.

“It puts us in a good position to build confidence and continue with this group.

“Overall it was a good performance. We created some good opportunities where we could have killed the game off but at the end of the day the determination and the grit of the players was great and the attitude was great and most important was the three points.”

Talay didn’t dwell on Waine’s saved penalty or Laws’ under-hit back pass.

“That happens in football, players miss penalties.

“You know next time he (Waine) steps up he knows if he takes the ball that he’s got to put it in the back of the net.

“We have a young group and this is all learning for them as well.

“I’m sure Josh knows next time he either gives it good ball speed if he decides to play Oli or he’s going to launch it for a throw in and play with no risk.”

Callan Elliot and Jaushua Sotirio will be assessed over the coming days with the Wellington Phoenix back at WIN Stadium on Friday night to play the Western Sydney Wanderers to kick-off round three of the Isuzu Ute A-League Men.

Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 5. James MCGARRY, 6. Tim PAYNE, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO (3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 88th min), 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO (8. Ben OLD 77th min), 14. Alex RUFER (c) (13. Nicholas PENNINGTON 64th min), 17. Callan ELLIOT (16. Louis Fenton 77th min), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 88. Gary HOOPER (18. Ben WAINE 64th min).
Unused substitutes: 12. Luka PRSO, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).

Central Coast Mariners: 1. Mark BIRIGHITTI, 4. Joshua NISBET, 7. Cy GODDAD (25. Matthew HATCH 70th min), 8. Oliver BOZANIC (c), 12. Marcos URENA, 14. Kye ROWLES, 15. Storm ROUX (3. Lewis MILLER 58th min), 16. Maximilien BALARD (34. Harrison STEELE 70th min), 17. Damian TSEKENIS (10. Matheus RODRIGUES 58th min), 18. Jacob FARRELL, 21. Ruon TONGYIK (23. Daniel HALL 88th min).
Unused substitutes: 5. Noah SMITH, 24. Yaren SOZER (gk).

Goals Gary HOOPER (Wellington Phoenix) – 48th min
Marcos URENA (Central Coast Mariners) – 52nd min
Jaushua SOTIRIO (Wellington Phoenix) – 63rd min