The Wellington Phoenix have recorded their first win of the 2022-23 Isuzu UTE A-League season in style.
The Phoenix have struck three times in a sublime 10 minute spell to beat Macarthur FC 4-1 in their fifth round match at Sky Stadium in Wellington.
Young playmaker Ben Old opened the scoring in first-half stoppage time to give the Nix the halftime lead, but the Bulls levelled the scores inside the hour mark.
All Whites midfielder Clayton Lewis restored Wellington’s advantage in the 65th minute, with a stunning free-kick, moments before substitute Ben Waine scored his third goal in as many games at Sky Stadium, while Bulgarian international Bozhidar Kraev capped the goal scoring blitz 15 minutes from fulltime.
It’s the Phoenix’s first win in the capital in more than 500 days and lifted the team into the top six, at least momentarily.
“It was very important today for us to get our first win,” Nix head coach Ufuk Talay told media post-game. “I don’t think we’ve been playing bad football, but we’ve been leaking some easy goals.
“Overall I think we were in control of the game. We pressed them well, we forced them to be a bit more direct and I think especially the last two goals were very good goals in the way we combined and scored.
“I’ll give Clayton some credit as well. It was a good free-kick. It’s something that we work on at training, Chiefy’s set-pieces. He struck it well and it went in.”
Six points from the opening five matches is the team’s best return since the start of the 2015/16 season.
“I think last week’s game against Melbourne City helped the belief within the players.
“It’s not easy going to play Melbourne City, being two-nil down and coming back and getting a point out of that game. I think that would have given the players a lot of confidence.”
But Talay is not completely satisfied.
“I think at times we can be better. I’ll always ask for more from my players. I always drive the expectation.
“Overall, was it a good performance and a good win? Yes, it was. It was something the group needed and I think we’ll grow from that, but I think we can always do better and improve.”
Ufuk Talay made five changes to the XI which started last Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Melbourne City, with Steven Ugarkovic, Kosta Barabarouses, Oskar Zawada, Kraev and Josh Laws returning to the starting line-up after featuring off the bench at AAMI Park.
The Phoenix dominated possession from the outset, but it was the visitors who had the early chances.
Macarthur forward Anthony Carter forced Oli Sail to make a smart save in the third minute and a handful of minutes later Carter dragged a shot wide from the penalty spot after finding space in the Nix box.
Bulls ‘keeper Filip Kurto was called into action for the first time in the 10th minute, saving a shot from Kraev.
Ugarkovic also tested Kurto shortly after with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box.
The Australian midfielder had another long-range effort in the 17th minute, but this time wasn’t able to find the target.
Daniel Arzani forced a sharp save from Sail moments later, after his earlier appeal for a penalty was rightfully waved away.
Old then fired a warning shot narrowly wide of Kurto’s right-hand post after cutting into the box.
The match came to a halt with 30 minutes on the clock as the crowd and players took a moment to pay their respects to Macarthur FC club captain Ulises Dávila, whose wife Lily tragically passed away in May, aged 30.
Both sides also worn black armbands with Lily’s name in her honour.
“I think that was a real class act from Wellington to provide that for Uli,” Macarthur FC head coach Dwight Yorke said post-match. “That was a real special touch. We really appreciate the effort that Wellington put in to pay tribute.”
Kurto had to make a couple of saves when the game resumed, but there was nothing he could do to deny Old in the third minute of first-half stoppage time.
The young playmaker glanced a header into the far corner of Macarthur’s goal after an inch-perfect near post cross from Callan Elliot.
Kurto was also kept busy early in the second-half, but it was Sail who was next to pick the ball out of his net in the 59th minute.
Mere moments after coming off the bench, Lachlan Rose was slipped through on goal by Arzani and Rose managed to toe his first touch past the Phoenix captain to draw Macarthur level.
The Nix took just a handful of minutes to restore their advantage, with Lewis putting Wellington 2-1 up with a top class free-kick. The All Whites midfielder got his shot up and over the wall and off the underside of the crossbar after beating the former Phoenix ‘keeper.
Moments later Wellington had their third, with Waine stroking home a cutback from Sam Sutton.
Fellow substitute David Ball also had a near immediate impact, picking out Kraev at the back post to allow him to make it 4-1.
Despite being three goals up the Phoenix continued to attack and looked the more likely of the two sides to score over the closing quarter of an hour.
The Wellington Phoenix will return to Sky Stadium next Sunday to host Western United in their final match before the FIFA World Cup break.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD (10. David BALL 60th), 9. Oskar ZAWADA (18. Ben WAINE 60th), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (31. Yan SASSE 90+2), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 19. Sam SUTTON, 21. Joshua LAWS (6. Tim PAYNE 87th), 23. Clayton LEWIS.
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON.
Macarthur FC: 12. Filip KURTO(gk), 2. Jake MCGING, 6. Tomislav USKOK, 7. Daniel DE SILVA, 11. Kearyn BACCUS (27. Jerry SKOTADIS 72nd), 13. Ivan VUJICA, 17. Craig NOONE (c), 24. Charles M’MOMBWA (35. Al Hassan TOURE 72nd), 44. Matthew MILLAR, 94. Anthony CARTER (31. Lachlan ROSE 59th), 99. Daniel ARZANI (37. Jed DREW 80th).
Unused substitutes: 1. Nicholas SUMAN (gk), 14. Moudi NAJJAR, 41. Oliver JONES.
8. Ben OLD (Wellington Phoenix) – 45+3
31. Lachlan ROSE (Macarthur FC) – 59th
23. Clayton LEWIS (Wellington Phoenix) – 65th
18. Ben WAINE (Wellington Phoenix) – 67th
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – 75th
6. Tomislav USKOK (Macarthur FC) – yellow – 39th
17. Craig NOONE (Macarthur FC) – yellow – 45+1
17. Callan ELLIOT (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 60th
18. Ben WAINE (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 80th
7. Daniel DE SILVA (Macarthur FC) – yellow 90+4