Phoenix rises in homecoming

Dylan Pierias of Western United and Jaushua Sotirio of the Wellington Phoenix during the A-League...
Dylan Pierias of Western United and Jaushua Sotirio of the Wellington Phoenix during the A-League match between Wellington Phoenix and Western United at Sky Stadium in Wellington. Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images
After 433 days, this was more than worth the wait.

Whatever happens over the rest of the A-League season, the Wellington Phoenix aren't going to die wondering, after a rousing 3-0 win over Western United in their homecoming game in the capital.

The victory keeps their slim finals hopes alive, ahead of another blockbuster game at Eden Park next Sunday.

But this was more than a match – it was a sporting occasion. The fans came in their droves, with the 24,105 crowd the biggest regular season attendance in Phoenix history and the largest A-League crowd this season.

That provided a wonderful atmosphere, and the players responded. There is always the danger that such games don't live up to the billing, but not this one.

It was a beauty. The Phoenix scored three impressive goals, including a Reno Piscopo stunner, and could have had three more, as the game opened up in the second half.

Western United were punch drunk by the end of it all, with the withdrawal of Besart Berisha in the 72nd minute an indication they were done and dusted, after Tomer Hemed's goal nine minutes earlier had all but ended the contest.

The result, which stretches their unbeaten streak to eight games, breaks a run of three draws and lifts the Phoenix into seventh equal on 33 points, ahead of Western Sydney and Perth Glory on goal difference, though both Australian sides have a game in hand. Sixth-placed Brisbane are three points away, also having played one fewer match.

It means that the Phoenix will need other results to go their way, but they are at least putting pressure on their rivals.

Coming off four successive defeats, Western United started the game with a deep low block Jose Mourinho would have enjoyed. At times all 10 players were behind the ball, as they were content to soak up pressure and look for dividends on the break.

Such congestion around the area was difficult to break down, and the Phoenix only fashioned a couple of half chances in a frustrating first 30 minutes.

But when the breakthrough came, it was a Cinderella story to match the occasion. Hometown boy Clayton Lewis had never played for the Phoenix in Wellington but found the perfect moment for his second goal of the season. His 38th minute shot was deflected, but the goal was reward for a sharp turn and positive drive towards the box, finally sparking the expectant crowd.

Marquee striker Hemed went close with a stooping header soon afterwards, forcing a good save from Western United keeper Ryan Scott.

David Ball probably should have extended the home lead in the 56th minute, denied by Scott, after being set up by a delightful Hemed backheel, but that didn't matter when Piscopo provided the moment of the match in the 57th minute.

The young Australian is one of the cleanest strikers of the ball in the A-League, and showed his prowess again with a stunning hit that flew past Scott from the edge of the area.

That set the Phoenix alight, and they had their best period of the match as Western United had to push forward.

Ben Waine and Piscopo had chances, before Hemed nailed the third, a well-timed header from a Louis Fenton cross.

That was the signal for party time, and the Phoenix had further opportunities, but couldn't inflict any further damage on the scoreboard.

 

Wellington Phoenix 3 (Clayton Lewis, Reno Piscopo, Tomer Hemed)
Western United 0
Halftime: 1-0

 

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