A solitary strike from striker Hamish Watson proved enough to secure Wellington Phoenix a pre-season win over Central Coast Mariners in Sydney on Saturday.
In a match played at Sydney school Knox Grammar, The Phoenix prevailed 1-0 in a good hitout for both sides just three weeks short of the Hyundai A-League season opener.
Watson struck just before half-time when he was quickest to react to a loose ball in the box as the Mariners defence failed to clear from a corner.
After changing almost the entire squad in the second half, the Mariners pushed hard in the closing stages for an equaliser and came close on several occasions.
Second half substitutes Fabio Ferreira, Kwabena Appiah and Josh Bingham were asking serious questions up front but Italiano made several crucial saves to keep the Phoenix ahead.
There were chances at both ends as the match went on, Watson's goal was enough to seal a third straight pre-season victory for Ernie Merrick's men.
The win continues Phoenix's strong preparations for the upcoming Hyundai A-League season, which kicks-off for the team with a home match against Melbourne City at Westpac Stadium on Saturday, October 8.
The Mariners opening match is also on that Saturday, with a tricky away trip to Perth Glory.
“It was a step in the right direction, we probably didn’t deserve to lose the game but that’s not our real focus at the moment, we handled the surface quite well and move ahead to playing the Phoenix next week in New Zealand,” Mariners boss Paul Okon said.
“The attitude since I’ve arrived has been fine, our hunger in the second half was pleasing, obviously we need to improve but no A-League side would be playing at their best just yet.
“I’m looking forward to Monday – I can’t wait to get back onto the training pitch and see where we can improve.
“We’ve been working on our combinations – the pitch was a bit bumpy so that last pass was difficult to find but that’s an area we need to improve if we want to score goals."
Both the Phoenix and Mariners will meet again next Saturday, this time in New Zealand, with a clash in Nelson which kicks off at 4pm local time.