Wellington Phoenix continued their pre-season with a commanding 5-3 win over leading NSW Premier League club APIA Leichhardt at the Leichhardt Oval on Tuesday night.
Head coach Ernie Merrick handed the reins to assistant Chris Greenacre after announcing an unusual line up with the team sheet reading Lewis Italiano, Tamupiwa Dimairo, Tom Doyle, Alex Rodriguez, Joel Stevens, Matthew Ridenton, Sarpreet Singh, James McGarry, Alex Rufer, Blake Powell and Kwabena Appiah.
It took the fledgling side most of the first half to find its feet and they were probably a little fortunate to be level at 1-1 at halftime with their goal coming from an own goal after falling behind.
The second half was a different story as the Phoenix asserted their authority with diminutive 16-year-old Wellington Phoenix Academy player Sarpreet Singh pulling the strings in the midfield.
Singh, who plays with a maturity far beyond his years, was outstanding and provided the impetus for a much-improved second half performance.
Recent Academy graduate James McGarry, who landed a professional contract with the Phoenix last week, put the Phoenix 2-1 up with a well-struck free-kick in the 57th minute and Ridenton made it 3-1 with a thunderbolt shot from 24 metres.
Nathan Elasi pulled one back for Apia with a well-placed header before Appiah restored the Phoenix’ two-goal advantage after a good run by Rogerson.
Appiah had a penalty saved before scoring his eighth goal of the pre-season campaign thanks to another assist by Rogerson.
Greenacre was pleased with the overall performance and end result but disappointed with the way his team had begun the game.
Wellington Phoenix assistant coach Chris Greenacre.
“We didn’t start very well and didn’t pass the ball as we do in training,” Greenacre said.
“To be fair to Apia they put us under a lot of pressure and produced a number of goal scoring opportunities.
“They were a good opposition for us but we just weren’t good enough in that first half hour.
“Once we scored we took control of the game and played well from that point.”
Greenacre was particularly impressed by the way the young Academy players made an impression on the game.
“Sarpreet (Singh) played like someone way beyond his years and young McGarry also impressed,” Greenacre said.
“Sarpreet is only 16 with a slight body but he already knows how to use that body against more physically demanding players.
“He will only get better with experience and continuing to play alongside senior players.
“I think we really have a player on our hands in Sarpreet.”