Coach Ricki Herbert doffed his hat to Wellington Phoenix fans after seeing his team overcome a two-goal deficit to beat Melbourne Heart 3-2 at Westpac Stadium on Thursday night.
In a match Herbert had described as “must win”, he, and the fans, were stunned as the Heart scored twice in the first 16 minutes through a well-taken free kick by Golgol Mebrahtu and an unlucky deflected own goal by Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante.
After such a disastrous start it would have been easy for those both on and off the field to feel sorry for themselves, but that was far from the case.
From the stands the fans roared their support, and on it the players tore into their task with gusto.
Louis Fenton pulled a goal back in the 21st minute after the industrious Vince Lia won the ball in midfield, and two second-half strikes by Jeremy Brockie saw the Phoenix home.
“They (the fans) really got behind us and played a big part in the comeback,” Herbert said.
“I think they were impressed by the way the players responded to the challenge, and so was I.
“Once we scored I always felt we would go on and win the game, and there were long periods where we played some of the best football since the club was formed.
“We now have some terrific pace up front, and Dani Sanchez is getting better each game after coming back from that long injury break.
“The character which this club has always had was to the fore again when it was needed.
“Obviously it was disappointing to have such a start, but there was probably a controversial aspect to the free-kick which led to the first goal and Dura was really unlucky with the deflection.
“It speaks volumes for the players that they could turn things around the way they did and I believe we took another giant step towards where we want to go.”
The team leaves for Australia on Sunday for games against Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory and, providing everyone pulls up well, Herbert will stick with the same squad plus an extra player.
Cameron Lindsay will be the one added and Herbert has no qualms about including him.
“Cam is young and eager and his stats are good from a physical point of view,” he said.
“Louis and Tyler have both grabbed the opportunity when it was offered and now Cam can do the same.
“He would have made his debut in Melbourne earlier this season had he not taken ill the day before the game.”