Phoenix into top six
A first-half goal from Dylan Macallister was enough to give Wellington Phoenix a vital 1-0 win over 10-man Newcastle Jets in Wellington on Sunday that catapaults the NZ side into sixth on the league table.
A first-half goal from Dylan Macallister was enough to give Wellington Phoenix a vital 1-0 Hyundai A-League win over 10-man Newcastle Jets in Wellington on Sunday.
Macallister's goal in the 20th minute secured a club record fifth straight victory at home for Wellington but more importantly the three points lifted the Phoenix to sixth (35 points) on the table and in the process dented Newcastle's hopes of reaching the play-offs as they stayed in eighth spot with 31 points.
The Jets were not helped by the red card shown to Ryan Griffiths in the 66th minute for abusing referee Chris Beath, who also booked captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the first half.
But the Phoenix did not escape either, with Andrew Durante, Troy Hearfield, Vince Lia, Ben Sigmund and Manny Muscat all shown yellow cards by the referee.
Sigmund's yellow was his eighth of the season meaning he will miss the next two crucial away matches against Adelaide and Sydney.
Given the Phoenix's hectic schedule - Sunday's game was their third in eight days - coach Ricki Herbert was quick to praise his side, despite it being one of their more scrappy performances of the season.
"I can't speak highly enough of the players," said Herbert. "I get sick and tired of hearing about the Australian teams and what they have to deal with, how much travel they have to do and the midweek games. We're the worst affected team."
"In my mind this was always going to be a difficult game having to back up from those two other games. But we got the result."
The Phoenix certainly did not start the match with quite the same gusto they have shown in recent weeks and the Jets were quick to shut down the time and space the home side players had on the ball.
Young livewire Marco Rojas, who has been the catalyst for much of the Phoenix's success in Paul Ifill's injury-enforced absence, came in for plenty of attention and he struggled to keep possession under the scrutiny.
Despite taking time to settle it was the Phoenix who had the first real chance in the 10th minute when Taylor Regan brought down Muscat as he ran hard towards the box. But Macallister's shot didn't even force a save from Ben Kennedy.
The big striker made amends 10 minutes later though. Muscat stole the ball in midfield and set Rojas free down the right wing. The teenager easily got past Adam D'Apuzzo and his cross found Macallister who poked the ball home.
Chances thereafter were few and far between for either side.
The two best in the first-half for the Phoenix involved the talented Rojas, who gradually began to deal with the extra attention he was getting.
In the 38th minute he got past Samuel Galloway and curled in a great cross but neither Macallister at the near post nor Nick Ward at the far post could get anything on it.
Two minutes before the break Rojas again broke clear down the right wing and this time threaded the ball into the box but a poor first touch by Macallister saw the close-range chance go begging as Kennedy smothered the ball.
The Jets' best chances of the first period both fell to Jeremy Brockie shortly before the break. A timely challenge from Sigmund saw the young New Zealander's first real effort balloon up for Danny Vukovic to save.
Then almost on the stroke of half-time Brockie was left unmarked in the box but could only scuff his shot straight to the Phoenix keeper.
It was an exciting start to the second half with Hearfield hitting the side netting before Marko Jesic saw his long-range effort at the other end cannon back off the post with Vukovic stranded on his line.
A few minutes later and Jesic's spectacular overhead kick forced an equally impressive one-handed save from Vukovic.
With the Phoenix desperate to find a second goal and the Jets pressing hard for an equaliser the match became scrappy and disjointed and the yellow cards for the Phoenix came thick and fast.
But it was the Jets who were hardest hit when Griffiths was sent off. Yet despite being a man down the visitors showed plenty of grit and even shaded the home side in the final 20 minutes. It was all to no avail though and the Phoenix hung on grimly.
"I was very proud of the players," said Jets coach Branko Culina. "To be honest with you we were very, very unlucky. "
"Not only was the effort good but we created a number of chances and when we went down to 10 men we were actually the team that looked like wanting to win the game," he said.
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Macallister 20) Newcastle Jets 0 Westpac Stadium, Wellington