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

The Wellington Phoenix have made a winning return to the Isuzu UTE A-League.

The Phoenix have beaten high-flying Western United 2-1 at WIN Stadium in Wollongong, courtesy of first-half goals from new Mexican playmaker Gael Sandoval and returning English forward Gary Hooper.

Western United’s goal came deep into second-half stoppage time after they were unable to find a way past young Wellington goalkeeper Alex Paulsen inside 90 minutes.

It is the Phoenix’s second win of the 2021/22 season and lifts them four places to eighth on the competition ladder.

“I think it was important for us to win this game. It was also a good performance at the end of the day,” head coach Ufuk Talay told media post-match.

It was the team’s first outing in 16 days after three quarters of the squad were laid low by COVID-19.

“I will be honest with you, I didn’t know what to expect, what we were going to get out of the players with only three sessions leading into the game,” Talay said.

“They showed some very good character and some good football with and without the ball at times so overall I’m pleased.”

Talay named his strongest-possible XI, calling on Hooper and Reno Piscopo for the first time this year and handing Sandoval his debut.

“It is always very satisfying when a new player comes in and he is influential and he’s effective.

“His (Sandoval) scoring a goal helps us and hopefully that gives him a lot of confidence and he’s got minutes in his legs now and we can continue to build him up.

“We’ve got a few young squad, an inexperienced squad and those visa players, those older boys are the ones that need to lift the group, lift the team and I think the boys did that tonight.”

Ufuk Talay also reserved praise for Paulsen after the 19-year-old produced a number of top draw saves to keep Western United at bay.

“AP was great. He made the saves that he needed to make.

“He’s continued to grow in confidence and look he’s doing a fantastic job.”

Sandoval had to wait just 15 minutes before scoring his first goal for the Wellington Phoenix. He was teed up by Hooper in the box and his first-time effort nestled inside Jamie Young’s right-hand post.

Right back Louis Fenton suffered a nasty cut to his face shortly after the opener but was able to play on and Talay said he’s fine.

“Louis is a machine. Louis will go through a brick wall for this club and for his team-mates.

“He’s got a gash, he got stitched at halftime and he continued on…we’ll make sure he’s okay and good to go again.”

The Phoenix had their second goal in the 35th minute, when captain Alex Rufer created space in midfield with a clever turn, fed Hooper, who took a couple of touches before shooting through Benjamin Garuccio’s legs and into Young’s goal.

Paulsen twice denied Serbian striker Aleksandar Prijovic with some top class goalkeeping to ensure Wellington still led 2-0 at halftime.

The Phoenix came close to adding a third goal midway through the second-half.

Hooper had the ball in the back of the net for the second time in the 64th minute, but he was judged to have been narrowly offside and the goal was disallowed.

Moments later he blazed over the bar after a ball fell to his feet in the box.

Jaushua Sotirio forced a smart save from Jamie Young in the 79th minute, shortly after replacing Sandoval and Paulsen matched him four minutes later to deny Western United substitute Christian Theoharous.

The visitors finished the match with 10 men after defender Tomoki Imai was eventually red-carded for pulling back Ben Waine in the 89th minute, when the replacement forward looked to go through on goal.

Western United midfielder Steven Lustica gave his side something to cheer about in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time, with Paulsen unable to do anything about his powerful shot from within the box.

Shortly after the final whistle blew with the Phoenix securing a much-needed three points.

The Wellington Phoenix will now turn their attentions to their FFA Cup semi-final against Melbourne Victory in Geelong on Saturday evening.

Wellington Phoenix:
40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Gael SANDOVAL (11. Jaushua SOTIRIO 65th), 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO (18. Ben WAINE 76th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 16. Louis FENTON, 19. Sam SUTTON, 21. Josh LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS (13. Nicholas PENNINGTON 85th), 88. Gary HOOPER
Unused substitutes: 30. Henry GRAY (gk), 8. Ben OLD, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 33. Finn SURMAN

Western United: 1. Jamie YOUNG (gk), 4. Leo LACROIX (44. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY 87th), 6. Tomoki IMAI, 8. Lachlan WALES (5. Dylan PIERIAS 61st), 10. Steven LUSTICA, 11. Connor PAIN (9. Dylan WENZEL HALLS 72nd), 17. Benjamin GARUCCIO, 19. Joshua RISDON, 23. Alessandro DIAMANTI (26. Nicolas MILANOVIC 87th), 88. Neil KILKENNY, 99. Aleksandar PRIJOVIC (34. Christian THEOHAROUS 72nd)
Unused substitutes: 37. Ryan SCOTT (gk), 27. Jerry SKOTADIS

7. Gael SANDOVAL (Wellington Phoenix) – 16th
88. Gary Hooper (Wellington Phoenix) – 35th
10. Steven LUSTICA (Western United) – 90+4

10. Steven LUSTICA (Western United) – yellow – 6th
Ufuk Talay (Wellington Phoenix head coach) – yellow – 55th
Giancarlo Italiano (Wellington Phoenix assistant coach) – yellow – 55th
19. Joshua RISDON (Western United) – yellow – 57th
6. Tomoki IMAI (Western United) – red – 89th