Wellington Phoenix strength and conditioning coach Lee Spence got the birthday present he wanted when his team came from behind to beat Newcastle Jets 3-1 at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
Spence, who turned 31 on the day, has turned the Phoenix players into one of the fittest teams in the Hyundai A-League and all the hard work came to fruition as they produced a scintillating burst to score three goals in five second half minutes and turn the game on its head.
Vince Lia, who took the field as a substitute three minutes before his team’s first goal, also played a major part in taking the Phoenix to within one point of the top four.
Coach Ernie Merrick said Lia, who is coming back from injury, added stability to the midfield and that allowed Roly Bonevacia to get more forward alongside Michael McGlinchey.
The Phoenix began brightly and McGlinchey could have given them the lead but spurned a golden chance and then had to watch as the Jets scored on the break through Joel Griffiths.
Down 1-0 at halftime Merrick told his charges to keep playing attacking football and they did just that.
Nathan Burns and Roy Krishna always looked dangerous going forward and it was no surprise that Burns should get the equaliser in the 73rd minute.
Put clear by a lovely pass from Bonevacia, Burns roundedJets goalkeeper Ben Kennedy and slipped the ball into an empty net for his eighth goal of the season.
Merrick has been drilling into his players that they shouldn’t sit back after scoring and look for another goal while the opposition is vulnerable.
“It looks like they are finally getting the idea,” Merrick said after McGlinchey added a second from close range from a Bonevacia cross 60 seconds after the first goal.
Four minutes later Krishna added a third with a stunning right foot shot from 22 metres that gave Kennedy no chance.
“Roy tends to drift concentration wise at times and I am always yelling at him to keep his mind on the game,” Merrick said.
“When he scored such a cracking goal I think it was his way of telling me to shut up. And I did!”
Merrick said he took Alex Roderiguez off and replaced him with Lia because he had a head wound that needed five stitches, and replaced Bonevacia with Kenny Cunningham in the 84th minute because he was suffering from a headache.
“I think it was the humidity that he isn’t used to,” Merrick said.
Burns fine form hasn’t surprised Merrick and he feels Socceroo coach Ange :Postecoglu should be looking at him for the Asian Cup.
“I’ve been trying to sign Nathan for four years and I finally got my man this season,” he said.
Ironically Burns was on loan to Newcastle for a period last season but let him go and how they must now be regretting that decision.
Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss, Manny Muscat, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Tom Doyle (Louis Fenton 46m), Albert Riera, Alex Rodriguez (Vince Lia 70m), Roly Bonevacia (Kenny Cunningham 86m), Michael McGlinchey, Nathan Burns, Roy Krishna.