The Wellington Phoenix ended a tough fortnight, and a tough season, with a big win against third place, Melbourne City, at QBE Stadium on Saturday night.
The Phoenix were under no illusion that tonight’s match would be a challenge, with their opponents coming off recent form and also in finals contention. With only one change to the visitors starting XI with Osama Malik in, replacing captain Michael Jakobsen, it was a side the team had prepared for.
Before the match got underway, both teams shared a minutes silence in honour of previous media and kit manager, Russell Gray, who passed away last week. There is no doubt that Rusty was the 12th man out on the pitch tonight, sharing every moment with the team.
The opening moments of the game saw the visitors take control with Fornaroli, Bratten, Vidošić and Arzani causing havoc and it was the possession based game by Melbourne City that hindered the Phoenix from getting a foot hold.
The 20th minute saw the boys in blue take the lead as Bruno Fornaroli fired one home to open the scoring much to the despair of the Auckland crowd. In hindsight, the goal from Fornaroli was exactly what the Phoenix needed, from this moment, they continued to assert pressure and defend stoutly.
It was the 33rd minute when Auckland born, Sarpreet Singh, got the equaliser to put the Phoenix back in the game. After a well-fed ball from Ljujic to his feet, Singh did brilliantly to lose his marker and snap a low shot past the goalkeeper with his left boot.
While the second half saw the Melbourne team show some attacking finesse, it was the home side that come out firing, consistently finding space down either side and creating chances.
The 58th minute saw the Phoenix take the lead 2-1 up as Sarpreet Singh pulled the trigger and his shot took a wicked deflection off Schenkeveld, to leave Bouzanis stranded.
A special mention to the Yellow Fever fans who made the trip to QBE Stadium who unveiled a tribute to the late, Russell Gray in the 74th minute. A banner reading “Rest Easy Rusty” was a touching moment to acknowledge one of the greats.
City didn’t let up and in the final moments of the game, a Brattan and Fornaroli combo looked dangerous before the ball went wide and a strike from Vidošić that hit the post just before the final whistle blew.
The match saw significant input from Wellington Phoenix Academy graduates, Sarpreet Singh and Liberato Cacace, proving the investment in youth to be beneficial.
A solid way to see off the Hyundai A-League 2017-18 season. Thanks to all our loyal fans and supports for staying on this journey with us, we look forward to seeing you all next year.