An exhilarating second half display of attacking football, along with a brilliant penalty save by Glen Moss, earned the Wellington Phoenix a 4-1 win over defending A-League champions Central Coast Mariners in Gosford on Friday night.
Down 0-1 at halftime to a 20th minute Bernie Ibini goal, the Phoenix came out firing after the interval and were level within 110 seconds through a superb Kenny Cunningham strike.
From that point the Phoenix were in the ascendancy, but they were stunned when referee Alan Milliner awarded the Mariners a penalty for handball by Andrew Durante on the hour when the decision perhaps should have gone the other way with Phoenix fullback Reece Caira apparently fouled seconds before.
It would have been a massive blow for the Phoenix had Mile Sterjovski converted the spot kick, such had been their superiority, but Moss pulled off a brilliant diving save to keep his team on terms.
The importance of Moss- save was emphasised within three minutes as Carlos Hernandez made it a Costa Rican double with the goal of the game into the top corner of Liam Reddy-s net to put the visitors 2-1 ahead.
As the Mariners fans looked on in stunned silence Stein Huysegems made it 3-1 60 seconds later and substitute Jeremy Brockie completed the scoring with his first touch in the 81st minute.
It was a fantastic turnaround by the Phoenix after their loss to Melbourne Heart five days earlier and a credit to coach Ernie Merrick-s ability to change things when needed.
The first comment at the post-match media conference suggested Merrick must have given a rousing rallying speech during the halftime break, but the coach dismissed that with a smile.
“I think people believe that coach-s give motivational, inspirational speeches all the time,” Merrick said.
“All we did at halftime was restructure our midfield slightly because while I thought we were pressing quite well in the first half when we lost the ball we kept getting caught on the break.
“I had to move Vince (Lia) Manny (Muscat) and Kenny a little bit and then later on we were switching Stein and Carlos so they were having turns at playing No 10 and it worked a treat because it was hard to pick them up.
“I think we showed we can play football tonight, certainly in the second half.”
Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss, Michael Boxall, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante (captain), Reece Caira, Vince Lia, Manny Muscat, Carlos Hernandez (Jeremy Brockie 78m), Kenny Cunningham (Matthew Ridenton 78m), Tyler Boyd (Roy Krishna 88m), Stein Huysegems.