An inspired substitution by coach Ernie Merrick paved the way for the Wellington Phoenix to beat Asian club champions Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday night.
While the Phoenix were on top in an enthralling contest, the all-important goal was proving elusive with some good chances going begging and a scoreless draw looked on the cards.
Enter Fijian speedster Roy Krishna in the 70th minute and suddenly the home side looked more dangerous.
Only a timely intervention by a Wanderers defender stopped Krishna scoring with his first touch, and 10 minutes later it was the diminutive striker who set up Nathan Burns for the deciding goal.
Released on the left flank with a pass from the impressive Roly Bonevacia, Krishna sped away and rolled an inch-perfect pass into the path of Nathan Burns who netted for his fourth goal of the season.
Michael McGlinchey had to chance to join Burns on four goals minutes later when the Phoenix were awarded a penalty but he was thwarted by goalkeeper Ante Covic.
Merrick was obviously delighted with the three points and was just as pleased with the way the win was achieved.
“We beat what is officially the best team in Asia and did it in style,” an upbeat Merrick said.
“We made it difficult for ourselves by missing a penalty and a couple of clear-cut first half chances, but we persevered and finished with a clean sheet, a good footballing performance and three points to boot.
“I think the mind set of let’s go out and win and play good football is becoming instilled in the players.
“It helps to have players like Roly and Mikey who can play different positions because we now have that mobility which means we can bring on the likes of Roy.”
Asked about the way he set up Burns for the winning goal, the softly-spoken Krishna said it was straight from the training ground.
“Ernie just told me to play the way we train and that’s what I did,” Krishna said.
“When I looked up I knew where Burnsie would be and just slid it across to him. That is what we do every day at training.”
Krishna said being in a professional environment had helped him improve his game and physical condition.
“When I joined the Phoenix last season I was a bit weak but I have been getting stronger and more confident and enjoying myself every day.”
The win was marred by a shoulder injury to Louis Fenton who had been outstanding at right back till a Wanderers player fell on him and dislocated his left shoulder.
Fenton, who missed much of last season with a serious injury to his right shoulder, was taken to hospital and the club will be waiting anxiously for the outcome of scans on the injury.
“It is really disappointing for the lad because he has come back from the last injury in great form,” Merrick said.
“Hopefully it isn’t as bad as it looks but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Fenton was due to leave with the All Whites straight after the game for a two-game tour to China and Thailand.
Phoenix defender Tom Doyle was also ruled out of the tour on Thursday with an ankle injury.
Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss, Louis Fenton (Michael Boxall 74m), Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Manny Muscat, Albert Riera, Alex Rodriguez (Roy Krishna 70m) , Roly Bonevacia, Vince Lia, Michael McGlinchey, Nathan Burns.