Men’s Match Review: Wellington Phoenix vs. Western United

The Wellington Phoenix have bounced back in style from their two heaviest defeats of the Isuzu UTE A-League season.

The Phoenix have beaten high-flying Western United 4-1 at Morshead Park Stadium in Ballarat, after leading 3-0 at halftime.

Jaushua Sotirio marked his return to the Nix starting XI with two goals, while Scott Wootton and Gael Sandoval also found the back of the net in the resounding win.

“It’s a great response from the players after the last two games that we’ve had,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media post-game.

“It’s not the way I wanted to learn from our mistakes, conceding 11 goals in two games, but sometimes that needs to happen for players to really learn.

“They’ve shown a lot of resilience. We’ve come off two very heavy losses and we’ve played Western United who are a very inform team and currently sitting second on the ladder so today was a very important win.”

Wellington are now fifth on the A-League ladder and just a point behind fourth-placed Adelaide United, who have played two more matches.

The Nix also have just one more game before they return home for matches at Sky Stadium and Eden Park.

“That’s what we spoke about with the players as well, getting good results before we head back to Wellington and Auckland,” Talay said.

“We just need to get through the Perth game and try to get a good result out of that and then the boys, even if they‘ve got no legs, they will be buzzing to come back to Wellington and play in front of their home fans.

“It’s something that I’m looking forward to, it’s something that the players are really looking forward to and I hope our fans will come out and enjoy the occasion.”

Ufuk Talay made three changes to the XI which started the 5-0 defeat to Central Coast Mariners on Tuesday night. Fit-again Sotirio and Reno Piscopo were named to start in place of young All Whites Ben Waine and Ben Old, who dropped to the bench, while 18-year-old defender Finn Surman was also reinstated to the starting line-up.

Surman joined Scott Wootton and Tim Payne in a new-look back three, with Talay changing his formation. Callan Elliott and Sam Sutton started as wingbacks, with Sotirio playing as a lone striker in front of Piscopo and David Ball.

Western United started the better of the two sides but had nothing to show for their early endeavours.

After weathering the initial storm the Phoenix started to look increasingly dangerous on the counter-attack.

Sotirio blasted a shot over the Western United goal in the 25th minute as the Nix broke from deep inside their half and moments later he also had appeals for a penalty waved away.

Shortly before the half hour mark Wootton put Wellington in front from their first corner of the match. He tapped home unchallenged at the back post after David Ball expertly flicked on Sandoval’s set piece.

The Mexican put Sotirio through on goal three minutes later and the fit-again forward blasted a shot off an opposition defender and past Jamie Young into the Western United goal.

Oli Sail, who had largely been unemployed for the first half an hour, ensured the hosts didn’t pull a goal back before halftime.

Sail was at full stretch to deny Slovenian midfielder Rene Krhin from scoring in the 33rd minute and then shortly before halftime the Phoenix captain snuffed out a dangerous cross from the busy Lachlan Wales.

Western United defender Tomoki Imai denied Piscopo from close-range in the 45th minute, but the hosts weren’t able prevent the Nix from adding a third before halftime.

Nicholas Pennington won Wellington a penalty in the first minute of first-half stoppage time and Sandoval stepped up to slot the spot kick into the bottom left corner of United’s goal.

Steven Lustica pulled a goal back for Western United 10 minutes into the second-half, beating Sail to his right after a clever one-two with Aleksandar Prijovic on the edge of the Phoenix box.

Sotirio restored the Nix’s three goal advantage in the 63rd minute when he turned and shot in one motion to beat Young after a mazy run from Piscopo.

United dominated possession for the remaining half an hour but struggled to break down a disciplined Wellington XI, who were well marshalled by Wootton, Payne and Surman.

The only time Sail was tested was in the 75th minute, when he had to produce a sharp save to deny Benjamin Garuccio at his near post.

The Wellington Phoenix are scheduled to continue their hectic schedule on Wednesday night against Perth Glory in Sydney. It’ll be the Phoenix’s sixth match in 19 days but their last before they return home for their first fixtures in New Zealand in more than 300 days.

Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Gael SANDOVAL, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO (8. Ben OLD 76th), 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO (18. Ben WAINE 70th), 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 19. Sam SUTTON, 33. Finn SURMAN
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 16. Louis FENTON, 34. Jackson MANUEL, 36. Riley BIDOIS

Western United: 1. Jamie YOUNG (gk), 4. Leo LACROIX, 6. Tomoki IMAI (9. Dylan WENZEL HALLS 46th), 8. Lachlan WALES, 10. Steven LUSTICA, 11. Connor PAIN, 16. Rene KRHIN (27. Jerry SKOTADIS 68th), 17. Benjamin GARUCCIO, 44. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (c), 88. Neil KILKENNY, 99. Aleksandar PRIJOVIC
Unused substitutes: 37. Ryan SCOTT (gk), 26. Nicolas MILANOVIC, 31. Adisu BAYEW, 33. Benjamin COLLINS, 34. Christian THEOHAROUS

4. Scott WOOTTON (Wellington Phoenix) – 29th
11. Jaushua SOTIRIO (Wellington Phoenix) – 32nd & 63rd
7. Gael SANDOVAL (Wellington Phoenix) – 45+2 pen
10. Steven LUSTICA (Western United) – 54th

7. Gael SANDOVAL (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 21st
99. Aleksandar PRIJOVIC (Western United) – yellow – 34th
4. Leo LACROIX (Western United) – yellow – 47th
17. Callan ELLIOT (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 84th