Phoenix reaffirm playoffs potential

A SUBLIME first-half performance by keeper Glen Moss and three goals in the second half have the Wellington Phoenix firmly in contention for a spot in the Hyundai A-League 2008/09 playoffs after the Phoenix smoked the Newcastle Jets 3-0 on Sunday.

Phoenix keeper Moss was the hero in the opening half, pulling off some spectacular saves to deny the visitors at Westpac Stadium. While the 7520 fans at Westpac Stadium were left wondering what might happen to their side-s top-four ambitions after a nervous first 45 minutes, ultimately they needed have worried as the Phoenix went on to comfortably collect three vital competition points courtesy of second half strikes from Leo Bertos and two to Golden Boot contender Shane Smeltz.

The win keeps the Phoenix in fifth place – and in line to be the first New Zealand-based club to make the Hyundai A-League playoffs – with three rounds remaining.

Moss was the main man in the first half, pulling off a string of saves that kept the home side in the contest. It was just the foundation needed for the Phoenix to launch their attacking waves in the final third of the match and keep their season well and truly alive.

The Phoenix gloveman spared his side any early blushes when he saved a shot on goal by Jobe Wheelhouse in just the second minute. The Jets midfielder was given too much space by a reshaped Phoenix backline formation given the suspensions of regular captain and central defender Andrew Durante and defensive midfielder Jon McKain.

The early momentum went the visitors- way, the Phoenix midfield being shaded by their opposites in finding space and controlling possession. However, the home side nearly went ahead in the 16th minute when defender Ben Sigmund connected with a Daniel corner but his header flashed past Jets custodian Ante Covic-s left-hand post.

Moss was again pressed into action when he was on hand, literally, to acrobatically tip a goal-bound strike by Joel Griffiths over his crossbar in the 25th minute. Seven minutes later Moss was called on for another tip to safety from a Tarek Elrich strike heading for the back of the net.

Moss made it four saves in the first half when he again denied Elrich soon after when the Jets frontman saw his one-on-one shot parried away.

The second half began as the first stanza finished, Moss blunting a Jets cross in the penalty area and then saving a miscued strike from Griffiths in front of goal.

The Phoenix could feel hard done by in not getting the go-ahead goal on the hour when Bertos was bundled over in the penalty area by Jets defender Adam Griffiths but referee Craig Zetter ruled otherwise. Bertos was not to be denied, however, two minutes later when he was on hand to force home from close range a bouncing right-hand cross from Troy Hearfield to break the deadlock.

Phoenix midfielder Daniel hit the side netting soon after, cashing in on more fleet footwork from the increasingly prominent Bertos.

The game appeared safe for the Phoenix when striker Shane Smeltz collected his 11th goal of the season in the 67th minute when the ball dropped to him in the penalty area and he lobbed the ball beautifully over Covic into the back of the net.

Smeltz sealed the win with a sweet strike from the penalty spot in the 84th minute after Hearfield was taken down in a clumsy challenge by Jets replacement James Virgili.

The result continues a fine home run for the Phoenix, having won four of their past five matches in Wellington. The next goal will be to reproduce that form away from home – against Sydney FC next Sunday.

Wellington Phoenix 3 (Leo BERTOS 62-, Shane SMELTZ 67-/86-(pen))
Newcastle Jets 0



Sunday, January 4 2009
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Craig Zetter
Crowd: 7520

Wellington Phoenix: 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 3.Tony LOCHHEAD, 5.Karl DODD, 6.Tim BROWN, 7.Leo BERTOS, 9.Shane SMELTZ (15.Adam KWASNIK 90+2-), 10.Michael FERRANTE (2.Jeremy CHRISTIE 76-), 11.DANIEL, 13.Troy HEARFIELD (23.Costa BARBAROUSES 87-), 18.Ben SIGMUND, 25.Manny MUSCAT

Substitutes not used: 1.Mark PASTON (gk).
Yellow cards: Ben SIGMUND 53-.
Red Cards: Nil.

Newcastle Jets: 1.Ante COVIC (gk), 2.Adam GRIFFITHS, 8.Matt THOMPSON, 9.Joel GRIFFITHS, 10.Jin-Hyung SONG (31.James VIRGILI 76-), 11.Tarek ELRICH, 12.Jobe WHEELHOUSE, 13.Adam D’APUZZO, 16.Ben KANTAROVSKI, 26.Mark MILLIGAN (17.Antun KOVACIC 83-), 29.Sean ROONEY.

Substitutes not used: 7.Kaz PATAFTA, 40.Ben MCNAMARA (gk).
Yellow cards: Nil.
Red Cards: Nil.