Wellington Phoenix U-20 narrowly defeated in Stirling Sports Premiership opener

Wellington Phoenix U-20 scored the opening goal, but ultimately suffered defeat in Saturday’s Stirling Sports Premiership clash against Eastern Suburbs at David Farrington Park.

All the game's goals came in the second half as quick-fire strikes from Sam Burfoot and Tim Payne cancelled out Willem Ebbinge’s well-finished opener for the young Nix as Eastern Suburbs secured a 2-1 win.

An even tussle was on display in the first ten minutes as Ryan Lowry made his presence felt for Wellington.

The first real chance of the match came in the 16th minute as Armin Pasagic’s shot from 15 metres forced Nix custodian Lewis Italiano into a save.

The visitors found themselves with a good set-piece opportunity in the 28th minute after Italiano saw yellow for handing the ball outside his area. Burfoot’s resulting free kick took a deflection and sailed over the crossbar.

Mal McPherson’s men created their best opportunity seven minutes from half time. After evading Italiano, Pasagic’s goal-bound shot from close-range was deflected wide by Dylan Fox.

Max Mata thought he had his side’s first goal of the new campaign near the interval, but was denied by the offside flag after he found the back of the net from a dangerous Ebbinge cross.

The Lilywhites started the second period brightly, with Pasagic and Moses Dyer continuing a good battle with Nix centre-back pairing Fox and Ben Mata.

Wellington Phoenix took a deserved lead in the 52nd minute after Ebbinge found space in the penalty area and finished calmly past the diving Silvio Rodic.

Eastern Suburbs equalised three minutes later after a defensive lapse from the Nix presented Burfoot a one-on-one chance that he finished calmly.

The visitors took the lead in the 58th minute after the Nix failed to clear their lines and captain Payne placed his shot into the bottom corner.

Wellington Phoenix U-20 boss Andy Hedge went to his bench for the first time replacing by Ben Mata with Jake Williams.

With 15 minutes remaining in the match, Hedge made a second change introducing Liberato Cacace in place of Luke Tongue as the Nix attempted to get back into the contest.

Both coaches introduced further fresh legs in the closing stages with Cahill-Fluery replacing Ebbinge for the Nix and Andrew Blake and Fabien Kurimata replacing Finn Cochran and Dyer respectively for the Lilywhites.

The visitors managed to keep the Nix away from goal for the remaining minutes to seal a valuable first win of the season. 

Speaking after the match, Andy Hedge commended Eastern Suburbs on the way they handled a difficult contest. 

“Ultimately we’re disappointed with the result and performance. Certainly in the second half I thought Eastern Suburbs came out really firing and they put us under a lot of pressure.

“It was a tough game all-round really. The conditions did play a part, but we felt we didn’t really control periods of the play that we should be doing.

Hedge was however pleased with aspects of his side’s performance, including the opening goal from 15-year-old Ebbinge.

“The goal for instance was one of the few periods where we did string together some passes right from the back right through to the goal and Willem (Ebbinge) played very well for periods.

Hedge’s team will be back at David Farrington Park next Sunday when they take on Team Wellington in Round 2 of the Stirling Sports Premiership.

Wellington Phoenix U-20: 20. Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 5. Ryan LOWRY, 6. Dylan FOX, 24. Logan ROGERSON, 26. Jack-Henry SINCLAIR, 27. Joe BELL, 28. Max MATA, 41. Willem EBBINGE (38. Ruairi CAHILL-FLUERY 80’), 34. Benjamin MATA (32. Jake WILLIAMS 62’), 42. Luke TONGUE (37. Liberato CACACE 75’), 36. Oliver WHYTE

UNUSED SUBS: 30. Oliver SAIL (GK)

Eastern Suburbs AFC: 12. Silvio RODIC (GK) 3. Finn COCHRAN (17. Andrew BLAKE 79’), 5. Luke ADAMS, 16. Anthony HOBBS, 18. Tristan PRATTLEY, 19. Emmanuel EKPO, 7. Timothy PAYNE, 10. Samuel BURFOOT, 20. Derek TIEKU, 11. Armin PASAGIC, 8. Moses DYER (27. Fabien KURAMATA 83’)

UNUSED SUBS: 25. Zac SPEEDY (GK), 6. Mario ILICH

Referee: C Mills