The Wellington Phoenix has scorched Western United in a thrilling 3-1 win away, playing arguably their best game of the season – and getting a measure of revenge against a Mark Rudan-coached squad that had beaten them at home in the first round.
The Phoenix dominated for long stretches of the match, with an at-times befuddled Western United resorting to aggressive tactics to deny Wellington the advantage. The win extends Wellington’s unbeaten streak to seven (4W, 3D) and returns them to sixth place – after briefly being knocked to seventh when Western Sydney Wanderers beat Adelaide United yesterday.
The match was played in stifling hot conditions in Ballarat, in place of Western United’s usual home stadium in Geelong; the first time a professional football match had been played at this venue.
Both squads boasted changes to their usual starting 11’s; with Wellington starting Callum McCowatt in place of Jaushua Sotirio – a late scratch due to illness. Western United were missing regulars Panagiotis Kone and Ersan Gulum, with ex-Phoenix player Max Burgess making his first start as cover and Scott McDonald returning from injury.
Western United started out strong on attack, with the Phoenix countering nicely and both teams displaying solid defensive play. An early injury to Brendan Hamill (knee) saw him leave the field 14 minutes in as the teams traded several decent attempts at goal thanks to Reno Piscopo, Burgess and David Ball – the latter’s attempt barely saved by ex-Phoenix goalkeeper Filip Kurto.
In a first half peppered with questionable football plays by Western United, none was more dangerous than Jerry Skotadis’s hit on Phoenix’s David Ball – a flagrant elbow to the back of his head that stunningly went uncalled by the referees.
But Ball would get the last laugh against Western United. A fantastic run by Ulises Davila up the field saw the Mexican slide it across the goal for to Ball to net his second goal of the season – putting Phoenix up 1-0.
That was the score at half-time, with Phoenix having more chances in attack, performing stronger in the tackle and playing a solid all-round game. It was also a noticeably quiet half for Western United star striker Besart Berisha, who barely touched the ball thanks to the dominant presence of Steven Taylor and Luke DeVere.
The second half began with a sustained attack by Western United in the first five minutes, but they were unable to score against a strong Phoenix backline. At 55 minutes, Piscopo threaded a pass to McCowatt inside the box, and the 20-year old striker delivered from a tight angle – his first in the Hyundai A-League, putting Phoenix up 2-0.
The Phoenix were not content to sit on their lead, continuing to attack – and were rewarded with a third goal at 80 minutes thanks to Mexican star Davila, who showed beautiful footwork on a solo breakaway to hit the back of the net. It was Davila’s 8th goal of the season, which includes six goals in his last seven matches – and put Phoenix up 3-0 for the first time this season.
Western United received a consolation, with Captain Alessandro Diamante finishing a late penalty following a handball by Taylor. That put the score at 3-1 to Wellington Phoenix in the 89th minute.
A fourth Phoenix goal – this time a spectacular long-distance header from Gary Hooper – was erased thanks to a VAR check that ruled he was slightly offside. At the final whistle the Phoenix walked away with a solid 3-1 win; also their first win in the state of Victoria since the Hyundai A-League 2016/17 season.
Wellington Phoenix will now play their next two matches – and three of their next four – at home in the newly-branded Sky Stadium; beginning with Central Coast Mariners on Saturday 4th January 2020. The Wellington side will take on the four teams in the bottom four of the Hyundai A-League ladder during this stretch, giving them a strong chance to extend their unbeaten streak to 11 games heading into February.
Wellington Phoenix Starting XI
1. Stefan MARINOVIC (GK), 3. Luke DEVERE, 5. Matti STEINMANN, 6. Tim Payne, 7. Reno PISCOPO, 8. Cameron DEVLIN, 9. David BALL, 10. Ulises DAVILA, 13. Liberato CACACE, 21. Callum McCowatt, 27. Steven TAYLOR (c)
Western United Starting XI
1.Filip KURTO (GK), 2.Aaron CALVER, 3.Brendan HAMILL, 4.Andrew DURANTE, 5.Dylan PIERIAS, 10.Scott McDONALD, 11.Connor PAIN, 14.Max BURGESS, 18.Besart BERISHA, 23.Alessandro DIAMANTI (c), 27.Jerry SKOTADIS
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
78’ ON 88. Gary HOOPER OFF 7. Reno PISCOPO
82’ ON 4. Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI OFF 6. Timothy PAYNE
Western United Substitutions
14’ ON 15. Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS OFF 3. Brendan HAMILL
62’ ON 12. Dario JERTEC OFF 2. Aaron CALVER
87’ ON 7. Valentino YUEL OFF 18. Besart BERISHA
41’ David BALL (Wellington Phoenix)
55’ Callum MCCOWATT (Wellington Phoenix)
80’ Ulises DAVILA (Wellington Phoenix)
89’ Alessandro DIAMANTI (Western United)
Next Match details
Round 13 – Wellington Phoenix versus Central Coast Mariners at Sky Stadium, Wellington; Saturday 4th January 2020, 7pm NZT