The Wellington Phoenix have fallen to their first defeat of the 2022-23 Isuzu UTE A-League season, after making a slow start to their third round match against the Newcastle Jets.
The Jets have beaten the Phoenix 3-1 at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, with all the goals coming in the first half.
Former Nix players James McGarry, Reno Piscopo and Sotirio tormented their former side, with McGarry opening the scoring with his maiden A-League goal, while Piscopo and Sotirio helped create the Jets’ others.
Bulgarian playmaker Bozhidar Kraev scored Wellington’s goal – his first in the A-League, but it was all the Phoenix had to show in a match they dominated after conceding two early goals.
Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay was left to rue a lethargic start from his side.
“I don’t think we started on the front foot. I think they started with a lot more energy than us,” Talay told media post-game.
“That’s something we spoke about before the game, matching their intensity in the first 10-15 minutes.
“It’s hard to win games if you give away two goals in the first 15 minutes of the game. We gave them too much time around our box and conceded two goals.
“The boys worked hard to get themselves back into the game, but disappointed, when we were attacking, to concede the third goal just before halftime, making it 3-1, which made it a lot more difficult to get something out of the game.
“The second-half was a lot better, but just no end product.”
Talay made one enforced change to his starting XI, with Sam Sutton making his first start of the season at left back in place of Lucas Mauragis, who was ineligible to play against his parent club. Phoenix reserves midfielder Noah Karunaratne took Sutton’s place on the bench.
One of the Jets’ former Phoenix players found the back of the net in the first minute, with Sotirio tapping in a Trent Buhagiar cross at the back post. The goal didn’t stand however, with Buhagiar ruled to be offside.
McGarry opened the scoring for Newcastle just three minutes later, coming in off his left flank and curling a right-footed shot inside Oli Sail’s left-hand post.
Oskar Zawada had an opportunity to draw Wellington level in the 10th minute, but he wasn’t able to direct an enticing Kosta Barbarouses cross on target, as he was being closed down by Carl Jenkinson.
The Jets had their second after just a quarter of an hour, with Beka Dartsmelia playing a one-two with Piscopo and then curling an unstoppable left-footed shot into the top right-hand corner of Sail’s goal.
The Nix started coming back into the game in the next quarter of an hour, with Barbarouses and Zawada having shots at goal.
Kraev then pulled a goal back for Wellington six minutes out from halftime. After Ben Waine showed great strength to maintain possession, Sam Sutton picked out the Bulgarian on the edge of the area and he beat Newcastle ‘keeper Michael Weier with a strong right-footed shot.
The Jets restored their two-goal advantage shortly before halftime, with Buhagiar nodding a pinpoint Sotirio cross into an open net after a length of the field Piscopo-led counter-attack.
Barbarouses forced a save from Weier in first-half stoppage time, but the Phoenix trailed by two goals at the break.
Talay looked to his bench to change the game in the second half, with Nicholas Pennington coming on at halftime in place of Clayton Lewis, while academy graduates Ben Old and Oskar van Hattum entered the contest soon after for Zawada and Kraev.
Old and van Hattum almost made an immediate impact. Old pulled his shot wide in the 63rd minute after being gifted space in midfield and dared to shoot, while moments later Weier needed to come off his line quickly to smother van Hattum’s shot after the forward was put through on goal.
The Phoenix dominated possession for much of the second half and pinned Newcastle in their half for long periods, but the Jets limited Wellington’s goalscoring opportunities.
Newcastle defender Mark Natta did well to partially block a Barbarouses shot, Waine shot straight at Weier twice after getting in good positions, while Old mishit his first-time effort on goal after Payne found him in the box.
The Nix finished with 24 shots to the Jets’ seven, with eight shots on target to four, but ultimately weren’t able find a way back into the game.
The Wellington Phoenix will be back across the Tasman next weekend to play Melbourne City in Melbourne.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES 9. Oskar ZAWADA (8. Ben OLD 53rd), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 58th), 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON (17. Callan ELLIOT 74th), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS (13. Nicholas PENNINGTON 46th)
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 35. Noah KARUNARATNE.
Newcastle Jets: 20. Michael WEIER(gk), 5. Matthew JURMAN (c) (19. Callum TIMMINS 76th), 6. Brandon O’NEILL, 7. Trent BUHAGIAR (2. Dane INGHAM 76th), 8. Beka DARTSMELIA (26. Archie GOODWIN 64th), 10. Reno PISCOPO (3. Jason HOFFMAN 76th), 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO (17. Kostandinos GROZOS 86th), 24. James MCGARRY, 25. Carl JENKINSON, 32. Angus THURGATE, 33. Mark NATTA.
Unused substitutes: 1. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 18. Daniel STYNES.
24. James MCGARRY (Newcastle Jets) – 5th
8. Beka DARTSMELIA (Newcastle Jets) – 16th
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – 39th
7. Trent BUHAGIAR (Newcastle Jets) – 44th
6. Tim PAYNE (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 11th
13. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 58th
5. Steven UGARKOVIC (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 80th
6. Brandon O’NEILL (Newcastle Jets) – yellow – 81st