A 76th-MINUTE strike from midfielder Tim Brown ensured the Wellington Phoenix snared their first win in the Hyundai A-League this season, a gutsy 2-1 result over glamour club Sydney FC in Wellington on Sunday afternoon.
It was not quite a case of Sydney or the bush for Phoenix, but near enough heading into their round six encounter. Having collected just two competition points the sense of relief was immense at the final whistle, not only for coach Ricki Herbert and his players but the majority of the 6729-strong crowd at Westpac Stadium.
The omens before kickoff did not appear to bode well for Phoenix, with seven changes necessary – through injury, illness and form – from the starting lineup that lost in Perth the previous week.
Significantly, the regular defensive triangle of goalkeeper Glen Moss (injured), captain Andrew Durante (sick) and fellow central defender Jon McKain (absent for personal reasons) was missing.
However, replacements Mark Paston in goal, Karl Dodd and Ben Sigmund stepped in and performed admirably.
Sydney dominated the early exchanges, but the home side-s back four blunted potential attacking forays by playing high up in the defensive third.
However, the visitors took the lead in the 20th minute when a right-hand cross from Shannon Cole found Alex Brosque unmarked in the penalty area. Brosque rose high and connected with the ball, the looping header leaving Paston stranded.
The Phoenix keeper was on hand nearing halftime to push clear a thunderous 25m strike from Terry McFlynn. From the resulting corner the ball went to John Aloisi on the far post but his effort from in front was scrambled clear.
The Phoenix drew level three minutes before halftime when left back Tony Lochhead completed a searching run with a pinpoint cross to the head of striker Shane Smeltz on the edge of the six-yard box. Smeltz-s glancing header was too good for Sydney goalkeeper Clint Bolton.
Phoenix frontman Vaughan Coveny briefly saw red early in the second half for a clumsy tackle, but his – and the crowd-s – palpitations were eased when referee Chris Beath changed his initial card produced to yellow.
Both sides continued to press in search of the winning goal, with Brown and stand-in captain Richard Johnson industrious in midfield.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert introduced fresh legs in the form of Jeremy Christie and Michael Ferrante for Leilei Gao and Vaughan Coveny respectively midway through the second half as the home side chased its first win of the season.
Brown, bandaged after an earlier head clash, put the home side in front with 14 minutes of regulation time remaining when his low strike beat Bolton to his right from 20m in centrefield.
Paston kept the home side in front after diving low to his left to deny a free header from Aloisi with 10 minutes remaining.
Sydney pushed forward in the final minutes in search of an equaliser but the home defence held firm to take three valuable competition points.
Hyundai A-League 2008/09 – Round six
Sunday, September 28
Wellington Phoenix FC v Sydney FC
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Shane Smeltz 42-, Tim Brown 76-)
Sydney FC 1 (Alex Brosque 19-)
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 5. Karl DODD, 6. Tim BROWN, 8. Vaughan COVENY (10. Michael FERRANTE 70-), 9. Shane SMELTZ, 11. DANIEL, 12. Richard JOHNSON (captain), 15. Adam KWASNIK, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 21. Leilei GAO (2. Jeremy CHRISTIE 70-), 25. Manny MUSCAT.
Substitutes not used: 11. DANIEL, 30. Jacob SPOONLEY (gk).
Yellow cards: Vaughan Coveny 48-, Karl Dodd 52-, Manny Muscat 66-, Adam Kwasnik 83-.
Red cards: Nil.
Sydney FC squad: 1. Clint BOLTON (gk), 2. Iain FYFE, 6. Tony POPOVIC (captain), 7. Rob MIDDLEBY, 8. Stuart MUSIALIK, 10. Steve CORICA (11. Brendon SANTALAB 62-), 12. Shannon COLE, 14. Alex BROSQUE, 15. Terry MCFLYNN, 19. Mark BRIDGE (27. Matthew JURMAN 85-), 23. John ALOISI,
Substitutes not used: 5. Mitchell PRENTICE, 20. Ivan NICEVSKI (gk).
Yellow cards: Stuart Musialik 79-.
Red cards: Nil.