The Wellington Phoenix have picked up a vital 2-1 victory at Bankwest Stadium last night, keeping themselves in the hunt for a top six finish and a chance at Finals glory.
After losing Piscopo to injury in the first 15, David Ball opened up the scoring in the 24th minute; Keanu Baccus equalising four minutes later, before Tomer Hemed put the visitors back ahead just before half-time.
A tense second half saw Wellington hold on for their second straight win, extending their unbeaten streak to a club record-equalling nine matches and pushing them up into seventh on the A-League ladder.
Wellington’s name an unchanged Starting XI from the line-up that ploughed through Western United last Saturday, while Western United makes a single switch; James Troisi out of starting XI in place of Keanu Baccus.
Here’s the key moments from this match:
11’ – Piscopo taken out
Ziggy Gordon commits a hard foul on Reno Piscopo in the midfield, the 22-year-old suffering an apparent shoulder injury on the play. Gordon is - surprisingly - not issued a yellow card for his dirty play, as Piscopo is forced to leave the field a few minutes later.
24’ – GOAL: Ball gets revenge (1-0)
A corner for Wellington sees Lewis deliver a pinpoint cross into the box, connecting with Tim Payne who attempts a header from the right-hand side which hits the crossbar - but David Ball is there to clean up, slipping home the tough goal to give the Phoenix the lead.
This is Ball’s fifth goal of the season and 11th since joining the Phoenix last season; the Phoenix remaining undefeated whenever Ball scores.
28’ – GOAL: Baccus equalises (1-1)
After a long-distance Wanderers attempt is blocked by the Phoenix defence, Baccus is able to get in front of the ball and slams home his first goal of the season to tie the score.
The goal withstands a lengthy VAR check, even though replays show that Nix goalkeeper Oli Sail’s view was obstructed by the Wanderer’s Dylan McGowan.
38’ – Lewis free kick
After Hemed is taken down outside the box by Gordon, Clayton Lewis lines up the free kick; his curling attempt a powerful strike that slides just right of goal past a flailing Margush.
42’ – GOAL: Hemed with the header (2-1)
Another set piece situation turns into a second goal for the Nix; Lewis delivering a superb cross into the box, this time to a waiting Hemed – his perfect header hitting the back of the net.
This is Hemed’s ninth goal of the season and his fourth in the past three matches; the Israeli forward dominating in recent matches from inside the box. This is also Lewis’ first assist this season.
Half Time – Wellington Phoenix 2, Western Sydney 1
After controlling the last 30 minutes of the half, the Phoenix head into the break with a 2-1 lead thanks to goals from Ball and Hemed – both scored off corners thanks to crosses from Lewis.
Despite the conceded goal, Wellington’s defence has again been in fine form; their five blocks in the half already equal to the Phoenix’s competition-leading blocks per game average.
46’ – Wanderers under fire
The Nix begin the second half with a trio of strong goal attempts. First, Sotirio blasts up the left side and attempts a slanting goal - which is barely denied by a Margush fingertip on the ground.
A subsequent corner sees Lewis connect again with Payne, whose header is barely off target; a third set piece situation sees Cameron Devlin attempt a powerful strike from well outside the box, his effort on target but again swatted away by Margush.
49’ – Kamau fails to score
Baccus gets the ball directly in front of goal and goes for the double, but his attempt is soundly blocked by Sail in goal.
82’ – Lewis and Hemed connect
The Nix win another corner, with Lewis’ cross on target to Hemed inside the box; his header sailing wide of goal but giving the Wanderers a scare in the process.
90’+2 – Payne saves the season
After Lewis deflects a pass into the box with his head, Payne blocks a subsequent attempt in front of goal by the Wanderer’s Tate Russell; the defender celebrating the potentially goal-saving play with a jubilant double fist pump.
Full Time – Wellington Phoenix 2, Western Sydney 1
Wellington controls this match thanks to a dominant first half, then holds on against a Wanderers second-half rally to pick up a much-needed three points.
The win moves the Phoenix back into seventh place, just two points behind Macarthur Bulls to keep the club’s top six hopes firmly alive. The Phoenix also extends their unbeaten streak to a club record-equalling nine matches – which the club first set last season – with a chance to extend it to 10 on Sunday at Eden Park, a venue they remain unbeaten at.
Following the match, Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay praised his team’s composure.
“I think our team defended very bravely tonight, there was a lot of grit and determination from the players; we scored two very important goals through set pieces tonight and we move on with the three points,” said Talay.
“We had a good performance against Western United [last Saturday] and a very important win last night, so hopefully we get a big turn-out in Auckland so our next game against Perth – we’ll have to live and die by our own sword to make the top six, we control what we can control and that’s to win our won games and hopefully we’ll make the top six.”
The Phoenix now return to New Zealand for their second match on home soil this season; this time at Auckland’s Eden Park when they take on Perth Glory in the Distance Derby – 3.35pm NZT on Sunday 30 May.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 6.Tim PAYNE, 7.Reno PISCOPO, 8.Cameron DEVLIN, 9.David BALL, 16.Louis FENTON, 17.Tomer HEMED, 18.Ben WAINE, 19.Sam SUTTON, 20.Oliver SAIL, 23.Clayton LEWIS, 27.Steven TAYLOR (c)
Western Sydney Wanderers FC squad: 2.Ziggy GORDON, 4.Dylan MCGOWAN, 7.Bruce KAMAU, 8.Steven UGARKOVIC, 12.Mitchell DUKE, 13.Tate RUSSELL, 17.Keanu BACCUS, 18.Graham DORRANS, 30.Daniel MARGUSH (gk), 33.Mark NATTA, 39.Thomas AQUILINA
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
15’ ON 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO OFF 7.Reno PISCOPO
79’ ON 14.Alex RUFER OFF 18.Ben WAINE
88’ ON 5.James MCGARRY OFF 17.Tomer HEMED
Western Sydney Substitutions
62’ ON 9.Bernie IBINI OFF 7.Bruce KAMAU
71’ ON 77.Scott McDONALD OFF 8.Steven UGARKOVIC
71’ ON 19.Jordon MUTCH OFF 2.Ziggy GORDON
80’ ON 27.Nicolai MULLER OFF 17.Keanu BACCUS
24’ Tomer HEMED (Wellington Phoenix)
28’ Keanu BACCUS (Western Sydney Wanderers)
42’ Tomer HEMED (Wellington Phoenix)
Next Match details
Match Week 23: Wellington Phoenix versus Perth Glory, Eden Park in Auckland, Sunday 30 May 2021, kick-off at 3.35pm NZT (1.35pm AEDT)