Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick could have been excused had he asked “now do you believe me?” after his team began the new year in style with a stunning 3-1 win over second placed Western Sydney Wanderers at Pirtek Stadium on Wednesday night.
During a frustrating, winless run Merrick had kept the faith with his charges, saying repeatedly it only needed composure in front of goal to start picking up three points.
The drought was broken with 1-0 wins over Sydney FC and Melbourne Heart, but the new-look Phoenix really showed what they are capable of by coming from behind to beat last year-s premiers with three well-taken goals to take maximum points from their road trip.
Both teams enjoyed periods of ascendancy in the first 45 minutes, but when Mark Bridge opened the scoring for the Wanderers in the 63rd minute the boisterous home crowd thought everything was going by the script.
How wrong they were! Merrick had again showed his footballing nous by replacing Jason Hicks, who was playing in the No 10 spot in place of the injured Carlos Hernandez, and moving striker Stein Huysegems back into that spot at halftime.
Hicks- replacement, 17-year-old Michael Ridenton, showed maturity beyond his years, and was instrumental in the Phoenix- fight back.
Merrick took another gamble by replacing Costa Rican international Kenny Cunningham with Tyler Boyd, who celebrated his 19th birthday two days earlier, in the 64th minute and within three minutes Boyd had equalised from close range after good work by Huysegems.
In the 77th minute Huysegems gave the Phoenix the lead with a well-placed shot, and six minutes later made sure of the three points with a cheeky back heel from a low Boyd cross.
It was the first time since January 6 last year that the Wanderers had been beaten at home and Merrick said he wasn-t surprised by the success.
“We-ve been playing some very good football and even when we went behind I always felt we were well in it,” Merrick said.
“Tonight we showed we can score goals when we need to.”
The only downside was an injury to Louis Fenton who was taken to hospital with a suspected broken collar bone and possible dislocated shoulder.
“We had to press Michael Boxall, who isn-t a fullback, into service when Louis was injured and he did really well,” Merrick said.
“Young Tyler went on and scored a goal and assisted in another and Michael Ridenton was outstanding in his first full half of A-League football.
“I felt a win like this had been coming and the boys had kept the faith that it would turn around for us the way they were playing.
“There has been only two games we haven-t played well in and I take a lot of satisfaction from beating a very good team.”
Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss, Louis Fenton (Michael Boxall 40m), Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Albert Riera, Kenny Cunningham (Tyler Boyd 64m), Jason Hicks (Matthew Ridenton 45m), Stein Huysegems, Jeremy Brockie.