The Wellington Phoenix have beaten the Newcastle Jets 2-1 at Sky Stadium, with the hosts putting on a solid defensive display in front of a raucous home crowd, picking up another three points to remain hot on the heels of third-placed Perth Glory.
Without key players Reno Piscopo and Matti Steinmann, Wellington were buoyed by the unexpected return of Alex Rufer to the field – who had been out since Round 9 with a knee injury – as well as Brandon Wilson’s first action for the Phoenix.
Newcastle were similarly motivated by their captain Nigel Boogaard making his first appearance of the season, after being held out due to injury.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair with both teams vying for control. After a Phoenix corner – one of six corners between both clubs in the first ten minutes - lead to an unsuccessful header attempt from Steven Taylor, the Jets went on the counter-attack; with a strike from Matthew Millar hitting the side of the net. Shortly after, an attempt from Abdiel Arroyo went well high.
A potentially serious injury to Newcastle youngster Lachlan Jackson cast a pall on the crowd, as his knee buckled awkwardly while attempting to keep up with Callum McCowatt on attack.
At the 16 minute mark, an attempt from outside the box by David Ball forced Jets goalkeeper Lewis Italiano to fully stretch out in order to bat the ball away. But Newcastle’s best chance of the half came after a breakaway run, with Jason Hoffman taking a pass inside the box and missing at point blank range in front of goal – to the delight of the home crowd.
Half-time saw both teams fail to get on the scoreboard, with each side showing strong defensive traits and making some decent runs up the field, but with neither able to make anything of their attacking opportunities.
The second half saw two strong attempts on goal by the Phoenix in the early going; the first by Ulises Davila from far outside the box – which just went wide – and another opportunity a minute later from Gary Hooper which also missed the mark.
But it was Jaushua Sotorio - on his first touch of the ball after subbing on for McCowatt – who took a great pass up front from Davila and rocketed home a beauty past a stumbling Lewis Italiano; putting the Phoenix up 1-0 in the 53rd minute and giving Sotirio his second goal of the season.
However, Newcastle would equalise 13 minutes later. A passing breakdown in front of the Phoenix goal handed an easy attempt to Arroyo, which he converted to bring the score to one all.
Phoenix star Davila wasn’t having it – barely three minutes later it was his turn to put the home side back in the lead 2-1, slotting home his tenth goal of the season after it deflected off of a Newcastle defender.
With the Jets pressing hard to get an equaliser, it was at this point that Phoenix’s Stefan Marinovic stepped up and showed why he’s regarded as the best goalkeeper in the Hyundai A-League.
First he pulled off a spectacular save against Boogaard, who attempted a header off of a corner kick. Then minutes later he followed up with an easy catch of a soft shot on goal by Arroyo.
As the match went into extra time, Marinovic was directly responsible for saving two equalisers from the Jets; the first a denial from a long range effort and the second a stunning point blank stop that left the fans cheering.
By match end, the Phoenix had held on to pick up a solid 2-1 win at home, overcoming a spirited Newcastle side with a fantastic defensive effort and some timely offense from Sotirio and Davila.
Coach Ufuk Talay admitted that while his side’s passing game wasn’t up to its usual high standards in this match, the team made up for it in other facets of the game.
“It was great to see Jaushua have an impact coming on and making a difference in the game.
“At the end of the day, we picked up three points and that’s what matters.”
And Coach Talay had high praise for Marinovic’s Man of the Match effort in goal.
“Stef has been good all season, a very good pickup for us; and for me he made a great save at the end to get us that three points.”
The Wellington Phoenix will enjoy a bye next week, before heading to Perth to take on Perth Glory at HBF Park on 7th Feb at 11.45pm – the second match in the long-running ‘Distance Derby’ between these two clubs. The club will also welcome back Piscopo and Steinmann for this match, hoping that the return of these two vital pieces help the Phoenix’s run to the finals.
Wellington Phoenix Starting XI
1. Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 3. Luke DEVERE, 6. Tim Payne, 8. Cameron DEVLIN, 9. David BALL, 10. Ulises DAVILA, 12.Brandon WILSON, 13. Liberato CACACE, 21. Callum MCCOWATT, 27. Steven TAYLOR (c), 88. Gary HOOPER
Newcastle Jets Starting XI
2.Bobby BURNS, 3.Jason HOFFMAN, 4.Nigel BOOGAARD (c), 5.Ben KANTAROVSKI, 6.Steven UGARKOVIC, 9.Abdiel ARROYO, 10.Dimi PETRATOS, 16.Matt MILLAR, 20.Lewis ITALIANO (gk), 22.Lachlan JACKSON, 44.Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
51’ ON 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO OFF 21. Callum MCCOWATT
67’ ON 14.Alex Rufer OFF 12.Brandon WILSON
85’ ON 4.Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI OFF 88.Gary HOOPER
Newcastle Jets Substitutions
26’ ON 18.Johnny KOUTROUMBIS OFF 22.Lachlan JACKSON
72’ ON 14.Kaine SHEPPARD OFF 16.Matt MILLAR
81’ ON 5.Ben KANTAROVSKI OFF 32.Angus THURGATE
53’ Jaushua SOTIRIO (Wellington Phoenix)
66’ Abdiel ARROYO (Newcastle Jets)
69’ Ulises DAVILA (Wellington Phoenix)
Next Match details
Round 17 – Wellington Phoenix versus Perth Glory at HBF Park, Brisbane; Saturday 7th Feb 2020, 11.45pm NZT