THERE may be more memorable occasions to celebrate a 21st, but in football terms the Wellington Phoenix will remember fondly their 2-0 win against the Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
As well as stretching their unbeaten run at their Wellington fortress to 21 games, the Phoenix snared a valuable three competition points to keep pace with the early leaders in the Hyundai A-League.
Played in front of 9553 fans in clear but cool conditions the home side – through goals to Leo Bertos and Paul Ifill – deserved the win on the balance of play, with on-goal chances in short supply.
After a tentative start the game needed an early goal and it came in the 10th minute when fine buildup work from Manny Muscat, in a deft one-two with Chris Greenacre, resulted in Muscat delivering a short cross from the by-line which was tapped home by Bertos.
While both sides showed a willingness to push forward there was little reward for their efforts, both goalkeepers rarely being tested as respective forays ended either by a wayward pass or shot, the referee-s whistle for an infringement or effective defence.
The Phoenix came close to doubling their lead in the final minutes of the first half, first via a Tim Brown header from distance that cleared the crossbar in the 40th minute and soon after when a sliding Dylan Macallister narrowly failed to connect with a low cross sent through the penalty area by Ifill.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert introduced Oscar Roberto “Toto” Cornejo for his Hyundai A-League debut in the 57th minute, with the Argentine settling into the game well.
The home side looked to have made the game safe on the hour mark courtesy of a left-foot Ifill strike that curled from right to left beyond Mariners goalkeeper Jess van Strattan and into the top right corner of the goal. Ifill – playing in his 400th senior game – had midfielder Brown to thank for being put into space from a delightful aerial through-ball.
Phoenix custodian Mark Paston was rarely under pressure from the Mariners- attack. The Phoenix-s Kiwi World Cup hero was only pressed into making his first on-goal save in the 79th minute, and it was a crucial one to deny a strike from Oliver Bozanic. He had to make just one more save, in added time.
The Phoenix face a short turnaround for their next match, against the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium on Friday, August 27.