While the Wellington Phoenix weren’t happy with the result of Sunday’s match against new Hyundai A-League entrants – and instant rivals - Western United, Coach Ufuk Talay was able to find several positives from the game.
Fielding a starting eleven with an average age of 25 – against Western United’s inaugural squad of seasoned players including 38 year old Andrew Durante – age was always going to be a topic of discussion for this first game. But Coach Talay was happy with his squad and proud of how they played.
“We created opportunities; It comes down to that final pass and how we execute and we’ll improve on that as the season progresses.”
Fielding a starting eleven that featured seven players making their Phoenix starting debut, and with a pair of changes from last week’s starting lineup against Team Wellington - with Liberace Cacace and Callum McCowatt coming in - the match started with off with early attacking play by David Ball in partnership with Jaushua Sotirio.
Western United attempted to strike in the seventh minute; one of their shots on goal for the night, but it wasn’t close. Louis Fenton retaliated a minute later, advancing down the right and delivering a dangerous ball inside Western United’s box to Ball, only for ex-Phoenix player Andrew Durante to head it clear.
After Cacace’s attempted cross was deflected, the Phoenix’s first corner of the match was followed up by a free kick deep inside the away team’s half after they conceded a foul, with Rufer’s curling cross falling into the hands of Filip Kurto – another familiar face for the 8,000 strong Wellington fans who attended.
After a fairly even first 17 minutes for both teams, Ball finally had an opportunity to attack, clipping it just over the onrushing Kurto but going wide of the post. Matti Steinmann highlighted his solid defensive game by stopping Scott McDonald ‘s attack with a vital interception, setting up the Phoenix for a strong attacking run – a string of chances at goal by Ball and Fenton that were unable to be converted.
Cacace drew some excitement at the 29 minute mark as he unleashed a monster 30-yard strike, again batted away by his former teammate Kurto. The momentum switched to Western United, with their first shot at goal – by Captain Alessandro Diamanti – easily batted away by Marinovic.
Western United struck at 34 minutes, with new signing and Hyundai A-League all-time leading goal scorer Besart Berisha finishing from inside the 6-yard box. Ball’s attempt to retaliate ten minutes later saw his effort rise above the bar, taking the Phoenix into half-time down 0-1.
The home team came out in the second half pushing hard for an equaliser, winning a corner and trying to building momentum. Rufer’s strike from range at 58 minutes drew a gasp from the home crowd, as they watched it go just over the bar.
Rufer’s yellow card at the 61st minute, following a small altercation on the field which saw Kone go down under Rufer’s tackle, was followed by the first substitution; with Ball being replaced by the talented Reno Piscopo.
Hyundai A-League newcomer Callum McCowatt set up an exciting play in tandem with Rufer, striking a volley across the Western United goal which fell to Rufer who was unable to head his effort goal-wards. The chances continued for the Phoenix, with McCowatt delivering another dangerous box to Sotirio in the box that couldn’t be capitalised on.
Another substitution followed in the 68th minute with Tim Payne coming on for Louis Fenton, then followed by 18-year old Ben Waine coming on for Steinmann.
An entertaining period of back and forth attack ensued for both teams - after Diamanti unsuccessfully attempted to shoot from distance, Payne delivered a curling cross that was punched away by Kurto.
A Scott McDonald strike heading into the top corner forced Marinovic into a world-class save, denying the veteran striker with his athletic abilities.
The announcement of seven minutes of extra time gave the home side hope of an equaliser, but it was not to be. Waine crossed in for the oncoming McCowatt, who thought his header had just snuck in, but was pushed out wide.
Davila recovered well as he later attempted to curl a free kick into the top corner, with it rising just over the bar. After Cacace’s last-gasp effort to equalise saw his attempt go over the bar, the Phoenix’s strong attacking half wasn’t able to change the final score – 1-0 to Western United.
The Wellington Phoenix now turn their attention to their next match; away at Sydney FC and a return to Coach Talay’s old club.
1. Stefan MARINOVIC, 3. Luke DEVERE, 5. Matti STEINMANN, 9. David BALL, 10. Ulises DAVILA, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 13. Liberato CACACE, 14. Alex RUFER, 16. Louis FENTON, 21. Callum MCCOWATT, 27. Steven TAYLOR
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
64’ OFF 7. Reno PISCOPO ON 9. David BALL
68’ OFF 16. Louis FENTON ON 6. Tim PAYNE
79’ OFF 5. Matti STEINMANN ON 23. Ben WAINE
Western United Substitutions
78’ OFF 11. Ersan GULUM ON 15. Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS
82’ OFF 18. Besart BERISHA ON 26. Kwabena APPIAH-KUBI
88’ OFF 10. Scott MCDONALD ON 14. Max BURGESS
34’ Besart BERISHA (Western United)
Next Match details
Wellington Phoenix at Sydney FC, Sunday 20th October 2019, Leichhardt Oval, Sydney, 8pm NZT