Phoenix’s finals dream over as Wellington succumb to Ikonomidis show

Wellington had to wait almost three months for the chance to make up their delayed Round 7 Hyundai A-League encounter but there were no points taken from the game in hand as the visitors were thoroughly beaten 4-0 on Sunday night.

In November Wanderers were in all sorts, but it was a vastly improved Western Sydney team tonight, especially with the addition of Socceroo Chris Ikonomidis, who showed he’s every chance to force his way into Bert van Marwijk’s reckoning if he can maintain such performances.

For Phoenix it’s back-to-back four-goal thumpings from Sydney-based sides, with another Dutchman, Darije Kalezić left with just six days to lift morale before the team’s next outing.

With so much at stake it was a subdued opening from both sides amid humid Sydney conditions inside the cavernous ANZ Stadium.

Kalezić opted for a return to a 4-2-3-1 with Goran Paracki returning to midfield but with the visitors looking initially on top it was the hosts who opened the scoring with their first meaningful attack.

Ikonomidis looked to take on young Academy graduate Liberato Cacace, enjoying his first A-League start with injury to Tom Doyle, and the youngster initially did well to avoid a foul.

The loose ball fell to Josh Risdon however who whipped a dangerous cross for Oriel Riera and the in-form former La Liga star nodded a terrific header that Lewis Italiano could do very little about.

The chances for Phoenix were few and far between, Matija Ljujic was fouled in a dangerous position just as space opened up for a shot – his curling freekick beat the wall but flew just wide of Vedran Janjetovic’s post.

Daniel Mullen suffered an early reoccurrence of his recent knee injury with Scott Galloway entering the fray with just 28 minutes gone before an excellent last-man tackle from captain Andrew Durante prevented the dangerous Ikonomidis from adding a second.

With Wanderers very much on top the best chance of the half however fell to Phoenix in the last twenty seconds off added time as Andrija Kaludjerovic found himself free inside the six yard box from a corner, but scuffed his volley wide with the goal gaping.

1-0 to the hosts at the break with Kalezić’s men needing to find an extra gear.

As it ended, so it started in the second stanza with Kaludjerovic enjoying a golden opportunity to draw parity. A poor clearance from Janjetovic found Nathan Burns who picked out the Serbian, but his headed effort drifted wide.

From there it was increasingly one-way traffic, with only the heroics of Dylan Fox preventing the flood gates from opening – first in the 49th minute by blocking Risdon’s goalbound header, before clearing Mark Bridge’s chipped shot off the line six minutes later.

In the 63rd minute it was the unlikely figure of Michael Thwaite who finally broke through the resolute defending – the centre back rising above Ljujic to power an effort past Italiano for just his fourth goal in nearly 200 Hyundai A-League appearances.

Ikonomidis finally got the goal his industry deserved and it was a sumptuous one-two with Bridge and a stinging low shot  in the 72nd minute to make Socceroos fans take notice.

Youngster Jaushua Sotirio adding a fourth late on as the hosts leapfrogged Brisbane Roar back into the top six.

Wellington Phoenix now return to New Zealand and face Perth Glory at Westpac Stadium on Saturday 17 February as they look to move above Central Coast Mariners.