Slow-starting Phoenix made to pay in opener

THE Wellington Phoenix have paid the price for the a slow and nervous start to their Hyundai A-League 2009/10 campaign, beaten 3-2 by the Newcastle Jets in Newcastle.

Two goals down after just 22 minutes, the Wellington Phoenix showed remarkable courage and resolve to get back into the match courtesy of goals to defender Ben Sigmund and British striker Chris Greenacre.

But it was the Jets who held their composure at EnergyAustralia Stadium to snatch the three competition points through an 84th-minute goal by substitute Jason Naidovski.

Earlier, the Jets has started the match with afterburners on – Jason Hoffman putting them two clear inside the first quarter with two well-taken goals.

With their backs to the wall, the Phoenix fought back. Sigmund halved the deficit with a thundering header in the 26th minute, nailing Leo Bertos- free kick past hapless Jets keeper Ben Kennedy.

Greenacre, in his competition debut for the Phoenix, drew the visitors level just before the break. Bertos was again the provider, breaking from midfield before laying the ball off to Greenacre, the former Tranmere Rovers marksman putting his low drive on target to squeeze the ball under Kennedy.

Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert read his team the riot act at halftime and the Phoenix came out looking much more assured after an uncharacteristically shaky performance in midfield and defence.

The match ebbed and flowed and it seemed destined for a stalemate before Naidovski struck the killer blow late.

Herbert summed up his feelings toward the match in one word: “Gutted.”

“We were poor at the start and paid the price. But we managed to get back into the game and to concede with six minutes left is not acceptable.”

The Phoenix-s slow start meant they were always going to be playing catch-up football.

“We did struggle to get going but we finally managed to find some rhythm and put them under pressure,” said Herbert. “Scoring two goals away from home in this competition should always be good enough. But we were hesitant at the back throughout and we paid the price.”

Although scoring twice away from home will give Herbert heart heading into the Phoenix-s home opener against Perth Glory at Westpac Stadium on Sunday, it is the Phoenix-s midfield and defensive effort that needs work.

“We can build from this but we-re all extremely disappointed,” the Phoenix boss said. “It-s about a complete performance; once you get that everything takes care of itself. We have to set the bar higher and this week we-ll have the chance to reflect on what needs to be done.”

The loss is the Phoenix-s first in a season opener and the Jets- first win first up. Interestingly, all five matches provided results. The Phoenix-s opposition on Sunday, the Glory, lost their opener 1-0 to Adelaide United, setting up a tantalising clash at Westpac Stadium as both teams seek their first competition points.

Match summary:

Newcastle Jets 3

(Jason Hoffman 12-, 22-, Jason Naidovski 84-)
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Ben Sigmund 26-, Chris Greenacre 43-)

Newcastle Jets: 1. Ben KENNEDY (gk), 2. Angelo COSTANZO, 3. Adam D-APUZZO, 5. Ljubo MILICEVIC, 7. Jin-Hyung SONG, 8. Matt THOMPSON (c), 9. Sasho PETROVSKI (19. Jason NAIDOVSKI 68-), 11. Tarek ELRICH, 16. Jason HOFFMAN, 17. Fabio VIGNAROLI (15. Sean ROONEY 78-), 24. Chris TRIANTIS (4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY 90-+2)

Substitutes not used: 20. Neil YOUNG (gk).

Yellow cards: Adam D-Apuzzo 48-, Ljubo Milicevic 58-.

Wellington Phoenix: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL (DANIEL 68-). 9. Chris GREENACRE, 13. Troy HEARFIELD (5. DIEGO 78-), 18. Ben SIGMUND, 22. Andrew DURANTE (c).

Substitutes not used: 10. Michael FERRANTE, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk).

Yellow cards: Jon McKain 48-, Tony Lochhead 58-.