Costa Rican Flair Pays Dividends

Wellington Phoenix’ Costa Rican stars Carlos Hernandez and Kenny Cunningham thanked coach Ernie Merrick in the best possible way by playing major roles in an important 2-1 win over Adelaide United in front of 18,056 fans at Auckland’s Eden Park on Saturday night.

Wellington Phoenix- Costa Rican stars Carlos Hernandez and Kenny Cunningham thanked coach Ernie Merrick in the best possible way by playing major roles in an important 2-1 win over Adelaide United in front of 18,056 fans at Auckland-s Eden Park on Saturday night.

Merrick allowed the pair to miss last week-s game in Brisbane to play two games for Costa Rica to press their claims for a place in their country-s World Cup squad, even though it wasn-t a Fifa window.

It was a gamble in that they didn-t get back till just before the squad left for Auckland, but there was no sign of fatigue as they both got on the score sheet and turned in top-class performances.

Hernandez opened the scoring for the Phoenix from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute and Cunningham added a second in the 44th with a superb solo goal.

It wasn-t just the goals that had Merrick enthusing about the pair, along with midfielder Vince Lia, but the quality of their all-round play.

“Carlos was outstanding tonight and played a key role with his ability to hit the likes of Stein (Huysegems), Tyler (Boyd) and Kenny (Cunningham) with through balls,” Merrick said.

“It was Kenny-s best performance since he joined us and Vince Lia was fantastic.

“I-ve known Vince since he was 14 years old and he seems to be getting better and better. He complements Albert Riera in midfield and they are difficult for teams to get through.

“Adelaide were reduced to hitting long diagonal balls and that shows the strength of our midfield.”

The Phoenix have been playing exciting, attacking football from day one without getting due reward in the form of results, but they have turned that around with five wins and a draw from their last seven games.

They are now in position to stake a claim for a playoff place and there will be more exciting games in the weeks to come.

“The result was terrific but even more important was the performance and we could easily have won by three or four,” Merrick said.

“The first half was one of our best halves of the season and we could have punished them in the last 15 minutes when they pushed forward and we caught them on the break.

“We had three one-on-one chances but couldn-t take them.”

That, along with impending suspensions for Cunningham and Boxall who picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season, was the only downside of a thrilling night.

Asked how he planned to fill the gaps left by their absence against Newcastle Jets next weekend Merrick said he hadn-t given it any thought.

“We-ll cope because we-ve had to change positions regularly all season,” he said.

“We lost important players in Paul Ifill and Louis Fenton but have adapted because it is a squad of 22 players not a team of 11.

“I have options to look at. Manny Muscat can play right back and young Reece

Caira could come in on the left after being away with the Australian under-22 side.

“There is also another youngster in Josh Brindell-South who has been training well.”

Merrick was delighted with the crowd numbers and felt his team repaid them with a quality performance.

Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss, Michael Boxall, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Kenny Cunningham (Roy Krishna 82m), Albert Riera, Carlos Hernandez, Tyler Boyd (Jason Hicks 64m), Stein Huysegems (Jeremy Brockie 71m).