Football: Wellington Phoenix earn big A-League playoff boost with Eden Park victory over Western Sydney Wanderers

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Ben Waine celebrates scoring against Western Sydney. Photo / Photosport

Phoenix 1
Wanderers 0

The Wellington Phoenix have taken a giant leap towards the A-League playoffs, with a vital 1-0 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers at Eden Park.

It was a tense, tight affair, with the Phoenix hanging on grimly for most of the second half, after Ben Waine had put them ahead in the first half.

The Phoenix rode their luck, as the visitors struck the woodwork twice in the second half, while Steven Ugarkovic fluffed a first-half penalty attempt, but they also showed remarkable grit when it mattered most.

It all got a bit spiteful in the final 20 minutes, with former Phoenix and now Wanderers coach Mark Rudan sent off in the 90th minute – much to the delight of the massed Yellow Fever support – as tempers flared on the touchline.

After dominating the first spell, the Phoenix struggled to maintain possession in the second half, giving up the initiative for long periods, as the Sydney team found acres of space and time.

But the result was all that mattered, taking the Phoenix into fourth, and three points from their final three games should seal a final berth.

Goalkeeper Oli Sail and the central back three were magnificent on a trying afternoon, while Sam Sutton made a strong return. Jaushua Sotirio did well across two different positions and the experience of David Ball and Gael Sandoval was vital in a testing encounter.

Sotirio was used in a right wingback role, with Waine returning to lead the line up front.

After a stirring rendition of the last post and a minute’s silence ahead of Anzac Day, drizzly showers commenced just after kick-off and both teams struggled with the timing of the pass, and their movement, on a slippery surface.

There was an early flashpoint, with Wanderers midfielder Keanu Baccus fortunate to stay on the field after an awful lunging challenge on Ball, escaping with a caution.

Ball had been prominent in the early stages as he found space between the lines, and another intelligent run led to Waine’s breakthrough in the 22nd minute.

Ball played a delightful one-two with Reno Piscopo on the edge of the area, before his perfectly weighted cross was tapped home at the far post by Waine.

Ben Waine bundles home the only goal.  Photo / Photosport
Ben Waine bundles home the only goal. Photo / Photosport

The Phoenix looked the most likely team – with Waine and Ball going close – as Sandoval orchestrated things in midfield but Western Sydney had their moments, especially in transition.

From one of their raids they won a penalty, as a shot was cannoned into Nicholas Pennington’s outstretched hand. But the chance of an equalizer was expunged with Ugarkovic’s comical attempt, with the midfielder losing his footing – a John Terry in the 2008 Champions League final – as the ball floated harmlessly wide. There was some sympathy for Ugarkovic, with the turf unstable in that area, due to Dan Carter’s recent kickathon.

The match stretched out in the second half, as the Wanderers chased the game. An ambitious Waine shot flashed just wide of the far post, before Ball was foiled by the advancing Daniel Margush, with Waine pleading for a cut back.

The visitors were finding more space in the wide channels, particularly down the left, as they camped in the Phoenix half, with substitute Keijiro Ogawa blazing over with one of his first touches.

The Phoenix hung on grimly, with a deflected John Koutroumbis shot hitting the crossbar, before Sail was forced into a good save at his far post.

Ben Old and Louis Fenton were bought on for fresh legs, as the pressure continued, with a Ramy Najjarine header beating Sail but not the crossbar.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Ben Waine 22)
Western Sydney Wanderers 0

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