Wellington Phoenix made the perfect start to the Hyundai A-League 2018/19 Season and it was a vital contribution from right-back Louis Fenton that was the catalyst for their win over Newcastle Jets.
With scores locked at 0-0 after half an hour at Westpac Stadium on Sunday, Fenton cleared Matthew Ridenton’s goal-bound shot off the line with keeper Filip Kurto beaten.
The Kiwi international showed great awareness to get back on the line to deny his former teammate what would have been a crucial opening goal.
A moment missed by many proved a massive turning point, with Phoenix taking the lead just 135 seconds later on their way to a 2-1 triumph - just the second time Wellington have won their season-opening match.
Fenton’s heroics almost went unnoticed in the excitement around Wellington’s encouraging start but that kind of defensive discipline points to a newfound resolve and spirit in Mark Rudan’s Phoenix side.
It was also a great personal reward for Fenton’s own perseverance.
The 25-year-old has endured an injury-riddled couple of years, last appearing in the Hyundai A-League more than 18 months ago.
But after stints with Melbourne Knights in the Victorian NPL and Team Wellington in New Zealand’s domestic competition, he forced his way back into the Hyundai A-League.
The importance of having a lethal finisher
Another feature of Round 1 were the clinical strikes from some of the Hyundai A-League's striking stars.
It took less than two minutes for Riley McGree to announce himself as a Melbourne City player in their gripping derby win over Victory.
The teenager’s gut-busting run forward just to get into the box was impressive enough, but his first-time finish from Luke Brattan’s sublime pass was fitting of the occasion.
The match-winning goal is sure to endear McGree to City's fans. It was his 'Scorpion Kick' goal - while playing for Newcastle Jets - that knocked City out in the Semi Finals last season.
But his tidy finish saved them this time and helped them getting bragging rights over their fierce local rivals.
Just 24 hours earlier, Sydney FC’s new striker Adam Le Fondre showed why he’ll be one of the most crucial pieces in Steve Corica’s new-era rebuild in the Harbour City.
Isolated for much of the game at Coopers Stadium, the Englishman needed just a fraction of space and one chance to pounce and help the Sky Blues snatch a 1-1 draw with Adelaide United.
It was a somewhat different story for Brisbane Roar’s new number nine Adam Taggart.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup striker for the Caltex Socceroos squandered a host of excellent scoring opportunities – and had a goal disallowed for offside – but he refused to allow that to define his game.
Taggart recovered from his previous misses by skilfully swivelling on a mis-hit Stefan Mauk shot and clinically rifled it past keeper Ben Kennedy for a true poacher’s finish.
Both Wellington striker Roy Krishna and Glory frontman Andy Keogh also showed great awareness and persistence to score from rebounds after their initial efforts were parried by the keeper.
That's not to mention the killer instincts of a defender - Melbourne City's Ritchie de Laet - who stayed alert when Florin Berenguer's spot-kick was parried back into the danger zone by Victory keeper Lawrence Thomas to set up McGree's grandstand finish in the Melbourne Derby.
Heroic Moments around the Hyundai A-League
Henrique looked like he was going to score a late winner for Brisbane until an incredible last-ditch tackle from Mariners defender Jack Clisby. Clisby timed his tackle to perfection to deny the ‘Slippery Fish’ a shot at goal to save a point for the visitors.
- Despite being on the end of a 2-1 loss, there was a reason to celebrate for Newcastle Jets recruit Mitch Austin, who made his return from a serious knee injury suffered almost 12 months ago.
- With up to a dozen players unavailable either through injury or international duty, it was a day to remember for 18-year-old Anthony Lesiotos, who made his Hyundai A-League debut for City in the Melbourne Derby.
City also had 15-year-old Idrus Abdulahi on the bench. Incredibly the teenager – a refugee from Ethiopia – reportedly offered to catch a bus to the stadium after being informed of his inclusion on game day, before City officials sent a car to pick him up.