Match Review: Reserves finish the year in style

The Wellington Phoenix reserves have capped their 2022 National League Championship season with back-to-back wins.

The Phoenix reserves have beaten Birkenhead United 4-2 at Fraser Park in Lower Hutt, after leading 2-0 at halftime and 3-0 early in the second-half.

Oskar van Hattum scored a brace, while fellow first-team players Sam Sutton and Yan Sasse also found the back of the net for the young Nix.

The result ensures the Phoenix reserves finish sixth in the 10 club competition, just two points behind Birkenhead in fourth.

Head coach Chris Greenacre was pleased with their final performance of the year.

“I told the players before the game to play a game they are going to be remembered by,” Greenacre said.

“You don’t play for a while now and it’s important you go away from here with a positive performance and a positive result. Go play a game that you want to be remembered by and I think they did that.”

Greenacre was able to call on six first-team players, with club captain Alex Rufer, Sasse and Sutton joining Alex Paulsen, Finn Surman and van Hattum, who started last week’s match against Cashmere Technical. Riley Bidois also returned from suspension to partner van Hattum up front.

“We had a few first-team players step down but on the whole I was pleased with how the young players played as well.

“And it’s great to see Alex Rufer back getting some game time, which is massive for the club.

“Full credit to all of the first team players that have stepped down this year. They’ve been absolutely fantastic…and the boys love having them around.

“I don’t think one of the first team players went through the motions today. They were getting stuck in and were putting their play at risk.”

The Phoenix reserves finish the National League Championship with three wins, three draws and three defeats from their nine matches, leaving the head coach unsatisfied.

“I’m never happy, which I’ve realised, but I think we’ve played some decent football in patches.

“Up until I think round 14 of the Central League we had the best defensive record in the competition.

“In this National League season we’ve been punished for our mistakes. It’s been a step up for the boys, which I think they’ve grown towards.

“We haven’t kept a clean sheet in his National League season which is disappointing. One of the challenges I set the players today was to finish on a clean sheet. That wasn’t the way I wanted it to finish so we can always improve.

“With the ball I think the guys have played some really attractive stuff and the boys have learnt a lot in this National League campaign because of the quality of opposition has gone up.”

The young Nix started brightly, with van Hattum forcing a great one-on-one save from Birkenhead ‘keeper Silvio Rodic in the fifth minute before Sasse rattled Rodic’s left-hand post.

Van Hattum and Sasse had further opportunities to open the scoring before Rufer was substituted in the 32nd minute, having made a successful return to competitive football eight and a half months after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Less than a handful of minutes later the Phoenix reserves had their opening goal. Sutton made a great run down the left flank after winning possession on the edge of his box, slipped a ball through to Bidois, who found van Hattum at the back post and he beat Rodic with a first-time shot.

Sutton doubled their advantage on the stroke of halftime, finishing a flowing passage of play after bursting into the box.

Van Hattum had his second and the reserves third little over a minute into the second-half, side footing a volley from the top of the box after Rodic could only parry away Sasse’s initial shot.

Paulsen was relatively unemployed in goal for the young Nix until the 68th minute, when he was called upon to deny Alex Connor-McClean Birkenhead’s opener.

Paulsen’s next act was to collect the ball out of the back of his net after being chipped by Luke Jorgensen from 40 metres out.

Sasse hit the post moments later for the second time in the match before he was finally rewarded for his endeavour nine minutes from fulltime.

The Brazilian headed home a perfectly weighted cross from substitute Josh Tollervey at the near post to cap a fine counter-attack.

Birkenhead defender Dino Botica had the final say little over a minute later, powerfully heading home a free-kick at the back post to complete the scoring.

Wellington Phoenix reserves: 1. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 2. Matthew SHERIDAN, 3. Finn SURMAN (13. Lukas KELLY-HEALD 57th), 5. Isaac HUGHES, 6. Dan MCKAY, 9. Oskar VAN HATTUM (16. Joshua TOLLERVEY 71st), 11. Sam SUTTON, 12. Riley BIDOIS (7. Noah KARUNARATNE 71st), 14. Alex RUFER (17. Fin CONCHIE 32nd), 15. Yan SASSE, 18. Ben WALLACE (10. Charlie BEALE 71st).

Birkenhead United: 1. Silvio RODIC (gk), 2. Everton O’LEARY (13. Codey PHOENIX 62nd), 3. Jackson WOODS (25. Nicholas FORRESTER 62nd), 4. Dino BOTICA, 5. Andrew CROMB, 7. Alex CONNOR-MCCLEAN, 8. Luke JORGENSEN, 10. Sam BURFOOT (c), 16. Dylan HOBSON, 18. Chase TAYLOR (21. James MITCHELL 62nd), 20. Cameron MACKENZIE (23. Curtis HUGHES 62nd).

9. Oskar VAN HATTUM (Wellington Phoenix reserves) – 36th
11. Sam SUTTON (Wellington Phoenix reserves) – 45+2
9. Oskar VAN HATTUM (Wellington Phoenix reserves) – 47th
8. Luke JORGENSEN (Birkenhead United) – 76th
15. Yan SASSE (Wellington Phoenix reserves) – 81st
4. Dino BOTICA (Birkenhead United) – 82nd

16. Dylan HOBSON (Birkenhead United) – yellow – 33rd
5. Andrew CROMB (Birkenhead United) – yellow – 64th