The Phoenix have picked a valuable point tonight at WIN Stadium, with an exhilarating 2-2 draw against the Western Sydney Wanderers in front of a raucous Wollongong crowd.
WATCH: Lokoli-Ngoy Goals in the NPL
With key players Luke DeVere, Tomer Hemed, and Jaushua Sotirio all out due to injury and David Ball suspended for this match, the Phoenix line-up would see Oliver Sail, Liam McGing, Louis Fenton and Ben Waine all making their first starts of the season – and regular starters Cameron Devlin and Joshua Laws on the bench, along with new signing Charles Lokoli-Ngoy.
The starting line-up would be notable for two other reasons; a season-high seven Kiwis featuring tonight and also the youngest match day squad this season with an average age of 23.7 years – Ulises Davila the elder statesman at 29 years old.
The match would start with the Wanderers controlling possession; Kwame Yeboah with an early free kick on the left wing which couldn’t be converted into a goal attempt. The Wanderers could waste a pair of corners, the latter a header attempt by Ziggy Gordon that went wide.
The Phoenix would go on the attack at 6 minutes, with Reno Piscopo attempting to set up Davila from just outside the box. Their attacking efforts would be rewarded shortly after, with Mirza Muratovic gathering himself after his initial goal attempt was blocked by Wanderers goalkeeper Daniel Margush, slotting home the follow-up shot to put Wellington up 1-0 at the 9 minute mark.
It would be Muratovic’s second goal as a Nix and also the Phoenix’s fastest goal scored this season.
A long-range attempt by Reno Piscopo at the 16 minute mark would agonisingly hit the right post, and subsequent attempts by Clayton Lewis and Muratovic would also be off the mark.
The Wanderers would have multiple attempts to equalise after 25 minutes; a Dylan McGowan’s attempt blocked by the Nix defence and a subsequent attempt from Yeboah caught by Sail in the box.
After Piscopo’s goal attempt at 38 minutes - a big chance on goal which was blocked by Margush - a retaliatory attempt from Yeboah would be punched away by Sail, and the first half would end with the Phoenix holding a 1-0 lead; the Nix enjoying 10 shots at goal (four on target), including four shots and a goal from Muratovic.
In addition to Muratovic’s heroics and the sublime play of Davila – the latter no doubt energised by the large group of Mexican supporters in the stands - Piscopo would be the star of the first half with his energy and decision making with the ball; Tim Payne also impressing in the centre back role and Sail showing he is a force to be reckoned with.
The second half would begin with both sides trading attempts, with a Piscopo strike blocked and attempts by Bernie Ibini, Nicolai Muller and Tate Russell all unsuccessful for Western Sydney.
The Wanderers would equalise at the 71 minute mark, after Yeboah’s header would hit the back of the net off of a set piece; and barely five minutes later the recently subbed in Bruce Kamau would slot home a goal from inside the box – the Wanderers suddenly in the lead 2-1 with a pair of quick strikes.
It would be the Phoenix’s turn to equalise shortly after, thanks to a header from close range from Fenton; assisted by a headed pass from Alex Rufer following a set piece situation. It would be Fenton’s first goal of the season and the eighth of his A-League career.
A late attempt at a match-winning goal by Russell would be squarely caught by Sail, and the entertaining match would finish 2 all – both sides taking away a point and the Wanderers retaining possession of the Sister Cities Shield for another season.
Following the match, Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay would have praise for the performance of his team.
“Going 1-0 up [in the first half] I thought tactically we set up quite well for what we wanted to do, and considering we had a lot of players out I think the other players stepped in and did a fantastic job,” says Talay.
“For Liam [McGing], Fenton and Ben Waine to get through 90 minutes was good; the players that came in, they stepped up and did what they needed to do and Tim Payne also did a fantastic job playing as a central defender.
“Oli [Sail] had a great game for us, I thought in his first game out there this season he communicated well, made some good saves and punched a few balls – he’s done a great job.”
The Phoenix will now travel to Victoria for the first time this season, to face the Melbourne Victory on Wednesday 24 February; the second match in a grueling stretch of three matches in seven days.
Wellington Phoenix Squad: 2.Liam McGING, 5.James MCGARRY, 6.Tim PAYNE, 7.Reno PISCOPO, 10.Ulises DAVILA, 14.Alex RUFER, 15.Mirza MURATOVIC, 16.Louis FENTON, 18.Ben WAINE, 20.Oliver SAIL, 23.Clayton LEWIS
Western Sydney Wanderers FC Squad: 2.Ziggy GORDON, 4.Dylan MCGOWAN (c), 8.Jordan O’DOHERTY, 9.Bernie IBINI, 11.Kwame YEBOAH, 13.Tate RUSSELL, 17.Keanu BACCUS, 27.Nicolai MULLER, 29.Daniel WILMERING, 30.Daniel MARGUSH (gk), 33.Mark NATTA
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
64’ ON 8.Cameron DEVLIN OFF 7.Reno PISCOPO
76’ ON 13.Charles LOKOLI-NGOY OFF 15.Mirza MURATOVIC
87’ ON 12.Matthew RIDENTON OFF 10.Ulises DAVILA
Western Sydney Wanderers FC Substitutions
68’ ON 10.Simon COX OFF 9.Bernie IBINI
68’ ON 7.Bruce KAMAU OFF 27.Nicolai MULLER
76’ ON 12.Mitchell DUKE OFF 11.Kwame YEBOAH
76’ ON 19.Jordon MUTCH OFF 8.Jordan O’DOHERTY
87’ ON 39.Thomas AQUILINA OFF 29.Daniel WILMERING
9’ Mirza MURATOVIC (Wellington Phoenix)
71’ Kwame YEBOAH (Western Sydney Wanderers)
76’ Bruce KAMAU (Western Sydney Wanderers)
79’ Louis FENTON (Wellington Phoenix)
Next Match details
Match Week 9: Wellington Phoenix versus Melbourne Victory, AAMI Park in Melbourne, 24 Feb 2021, kick-off at 7.05pm AEDT (9.05pm NZ time)