Wellington Phoenix’s mid-season resurgence has gained further momentum after a shock 3-1 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers on Wednesday night.
Despite going behind to a Mark Bridge goal 17 minutes into the second half, the Phoenix showed tremendous resilience and character to score three times in 15 minutes to stun more than 14,000 fans at Pirtek Stadium.
Substitute Tyler Boyd equalised just six minutes after Bridge’s opener before a brace to Belgian striker Stein Huysegems completed one of the best wins in the club’s history given their injury toll.
Already without key pair Paul Ifill (Achilles) and Carlos Hernandez (wrist), the Phoenix also lost youngsters Louis Fenton and Jason Hicks to injury by half-time.
After going the first 10 rounds without a win, the Kiwi side have now won three games in a row to have the top six now very much in their sights.
It was the Wanderers first defeat at home in almost a year going back to their 2-0 defeat to the Central Coast on January 6 last year.
But more importantly for Tony Popovic’s side they missed the chance to close the gap on league-leaders Brisbane Roar.
The match lacked tempo in the early stages as neither side managed to create any genuine chances in the first 30 minutes.
Aaron Mooy tested Glen Moss on the half hour mark when he hit a first-time volley from just outside the box which bounced awkwardly in front of Phoenix ‘keeper, who spilled the ball before it was hacked away to safety.
While Wellington came into the match buoyed by back-to-back wins, they struggled to penetrate the home side’s well-organised defence and therefore rarely threatened Ante Covic’s goal.
The Wanderers then created the two best chances of the half in the space of a couple of minutes but failed to convert.
First Youssouf Hersi played a clever one-two with Mark Bridge in the box but the Dutchman’s left-foot shot lacked the power to trouble Moss.
Shinji Ono went even closer soon after, doing well to head Jerome Polenz’s centre towards goal only to see the ball bounce back off the crossbar.
The Wanderers felt aggrieved with the officials at the start of the second half as a couple of close calls went against the home side.
Hersi appealed for a penalty after a tangle with Andrew Durante as he stretched for Ono’s cross while Tomi Juric had the ball in the net soon after only to be denied by a tight offside call.
But they wouldn’t be denied for long as Bridge struck just after the hour after another sublime piece of skill from Ono.
Receiving the ball just outside the box, the Japanese star produced an audacious dink in behind the defence with Bridge racing through and clipping over Moss to score.
The lead lasted only six minutes before Boyd pounced for his first A-League goal, sliding in at the far post to tap home after Huysegems got in behind the Wanderers defence.
Huysegems then did it all himself 10 minutes later, dispossessing Mooy just outside the box before running at Nikolai Topor-Stanley, cutting back onto his left foot and finishing clinically in the far corner.
When Huysegems produced a cleaver back-heeled finish from Boyd’s centre five minutes later, the Phoenix completed one of the upsets of the season.
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Bridge 62)
Wellington Phoenix 3 (Boyd 68, Huysegems 78, 83)
Crowd: 14,151 @ Pirtek Stadium