Second-half goals from Roy Krishna and Hamish Watson helped Wellington Phoenix claim a deserved 2-0 win over Central Coast Mariners in Canberra on Saturday in what was Head Coach Ernie Merrick’s centenary victory in the Hyundai A-League.
Phoenix were well on top from kick-off but it took until the 49th minute for that to reflect in the score as Roy Krishna was slipped through by Hamish Watson and the Fijian kept his cool for the game’s opener.
Before the hour mark Krishna returned the favour and set up Watson for the easiest of finishes to complete the comfortable 2-0 victory for the away side and a landmark occasion for Head Coach Merrick.
Phoenix started the contest pressing aggressively and just four minutes in Watson was released by Roly Bonevacia after the visitors’ won the ball in their opponents’ half. Watson did well inside the box to make space for a shot, but was saved by Paul Izzo.
Wellington were in complete control and Roy Krishna came even closer to scoring barely a minute later when after winning the ball high up the pitch he burst into the box and fired a shot across goal that was stopped by Izzo.
The away side were creating all the good chances and on 13 minutes it was only an acrobatic save from the Mariners goalkeeper that prevented Boenvacia scoring with a spectacular effort from outside the box.
Phoenix had another good chance to open the scoring past the half hour as Watson made his way into the box and unleashed a powerful drive on goal, yet he was again thwarted by Izzo.
A few minutes before the break Wellington came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock when Gui Finkler’s curling free-kick took the Central Coast shotstopper by surprise and hit the upright.
Less than five minutes after the interval, Phoenix finally scored the goal their play deserved. Watson played it through for Krishna who broke the offside trap, rounded the goalkeeper and evaded the challenge of a defender before slotting in the opener.
It could have been two soon after as Watson fired in low and hard from a tight angle, with Izzo only able to parry, yet Finkler and Krishna couldn’t quite get there in time to steer the ball in.
It didn’t take much longer for that Phoenix trio to combine again to great effect. This time Finkler fed Krishna with a killer through ball and with only the ‘keeper to beat he unselfishly teed up Watson who tapped in to an empty net for 2-0.
There was a scare at the other end as a wicked Mariners corner caused problems at the back, but eventually the Nix defence was able to clear. From the resulting corner, Roy O’Donvan’s shot from close range went over the bar.
Lewis Italiano was standing tall in the Phoenix goal, and kept Fabio Ferreira at bay from close range when the Portuguese winger burst into the box on 65 minutes.
Ten minutes later Italiano pulled off an excellent reaction save to deny O’Donovan, who hit a snap shot from close range.
Wellington were still in control of the result though and kept another clean sheet as they made it back-to-back wins with the 2-0 victory, which sets them up perfectly to face Melbourne Victory at Westpac Stadium next Saturday.
After six points from six, Merrick is now aiming to build on the last two performances, starting with Victory next weekend.
“I feel as though we need to go on a run of more than two, so we’ve got to keep it all in perspective,” Merrick said.
“But to have so many inexperienced players come into the team at once – and I know we prepared for it pre-season, but it’s still a lot of pressure away from home – I thought the boys did a great job.
“I thought at half time [at 0-0] we were playing well. Keep it going, continue to be conscientious at tracking and defending, but getting into that front third quickly and that’s what we kept doing.”
The victory was also a personal milestone for the two-time A-League champion, but he seemed more interested in getting a laugh from the crowd.
“And by the way they’ve said it’s my 100th win, they’ve got it all wrong, it’s much more than that,” Merrick said with a wry smile.
Central Coast Mariners 0-2 Wellington Phoenix
Central Coast Mariners: 20. Paul IZZO (GK), 2. Storm ROUX, 3. Scott GALLOWAY (21. Michael NEILL 23′), 6. Blake POWELL (16. Liam ROSE 64′), 7. Fabio FERREIRA (12. Trent BUHAGIAR 71′), 8. Nick MONTGOMERY (c), 9. Roy O’DONOVAN, 10. Mickaël Tavares, 11. Connor PAIN, 19. Jacques FATY, 22. Jake McGING
Unused subs: 1. Ivan NECEVSKI (GK), 17. Josh BINGHAM
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 2. Jacob TRATT, 4. Roly BONEVACIA, 5. Ryan LOWRY, 7. Guilherme FINKLER (14. Alex RUFER 86′), 8. Alex RODRIGUEZ, 11. Hamish WATSON (18. Ben LITFIN 88′), 13. Marco ROSSI, 17. Vince LIA (c), 21. Roy KRISHNA, 23. Matthew RIDENTON
Unused subs: 30. Oliver SAIL (GK), 6. Dylan FOX, 24. Logan ROGERSON
Goalscorers: 21. Roy KRISHNA (49′), 11. Hamish WATSON (56′)
Referee: Steven Lucas