It was the Dani Sanchez and Mirjan Pavlovic show as Wellington Phoenix grabbed an early Christmas present with an impressive 5-2 win over Newcastle Jets in Wellington on Friday night.
Sanchez was all class for the 70 minutes he played as he bagged a first-half double with clinically taken goals in the 16th and 34th minutes.
Chris Greenacre, on his 34th birthday, slid in for a third in the 39th minute leaving the Jets reeling by half-time.
The visitors pulled one back through Sung-Hwan Byun early in the second half from a direct free-kick but Pavlovic, who replaced Sanchez, made the game safe with two goals in two minutes before Ryan Griffiths headed home a late consolation for the Jets.
Both teams had a reshuffled look to them but it had no negative effect on the Phoenix who dominated from the opening whistle and looked to play the game at pace.
In the absence of Tony Lochhead (groin), Paul Ifill (groin) and Nicky Ward (concussion), Vinnie Lia dropped to right-back and Manny Muscat shifted to left-back while Daniel and Sanchez came into an attacking midfield.
But Alex Smith, who got his first goal for the Phoenix against Melbourne Victory last weekend, was switched to a more defensive midfield role alongside Tim Brown.
The Jets welcomed back Nikolai Topor-Stanley in place of Taylor Regan, while Ben Kantarovski and Jacob Pepper came in for Kasey Wehrman (rested) and Jobe Wheelhouse (suspended).
Ali Abbas was also preferred up front to Jeremy Brockie.
But they were completely outplayed in midfield and barely had a shot on goal in the first half and at half-time Abbas made way for Brockie and Francis Jeffers was replaced by Michael Bridges.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has long been looking for another creative spark to complement Paul Ifill and in Sanchez he appears to have found his man.
In Ifill’s absence the Spaniard stepped into that creative role with aplomb.
He showed plenty of intricate touches, good speed, a cool head and perfect finishing as he and Daniel, who was also outstanding, provided the impetus and vision from midfield.
The opening goal was the result of excellent one-touch football between Andrew Durante and Manny Muscat before a well-placed volley by Daniel put Sanchez through and he calmly slotted into the net.
Tim Brown, Greenacre and Sanchez all had decent chances to double the lead and it was only a matter of time before a second goal came as the Phoenix continued to press forward.
It eventually came in the 34th minute when a ball over the top from Muscat was gathered by Sanchez who then slotted the ball between the legs of Jets goalkeeper Ben Kennedy.
Five minutes later it was Leo Bertos who beat three Jets defenders in the box and threaded a low cross in for Greenacre who slid in on his stomach to head home.
It was the Jets who started the second half brightly and won a direct free-kick just outside the box when Durante was adjudged to have accidentally got a hand in the way of the ball and Byun curled it in past Tony Warner.
The Jets enjoyed a period of dominance immediately after that but could not turn the pressure into goals and it was Daniel, who produced the pinpoint deliveries into the box, and Pavlovic’s finishing that ensured a merry Christmas for the home side, despite Griffiths’ late effort.