Nieuwenhof, Brattan stunners hand Sky Blues win over Phoenix
Sydney FC began their hunt for three consecutive A-League Championships on the front foot with a 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix at WIN Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Two of the best goals you will see all season highlighted the affair, with long distance shots from Calem Nieuwenhof and Luke Brattan cancelling out Mirza Muratovic's equaliser on the cusp of half-time.
Wellington's start to life in Wollongong began largely on the back foot. The visitors comfortably retained the ball in the early stages and could have gone ahead if Kosta Barbarouses' close-range shot snuck into the bottom right corner instead of grazing the side-netting.
Luke DeVere ventured forward for a Phoenix corner and leapt high above Alex Wilkinson to head a decent chance wide, before 19-year-old Sky Blues midfielder Nieuwenhof stepped forward to announce himself to the league with a truly sensational strike on debut.
Despite being outplayed for large parts of the opening stanza, Phoenix managed an equaliser on the stroke of half-time through Muratovic, cancelling out Nieuwenhof's screamer and sending the sides into the sheds at one goal apiece.
After being pegged back before the break, Sydney emerged intent on regaining their lead.
Strike after strike came from distance from the Sky Blues. It should have come as no surprise when one eventually found the back of the net but nothing could have prepared either side for what was to come, when Brattan nestled a swerving free-kick into the top-right corner.
Wellington rallied after going behind for the second time, and chances to Cameron Devlin, Alex Rufer and second-half substitute Ulises Davila in and around the box, handing Steve Corica and the Sky Blues reasons for concern with 10 minutes to play.
Drama ensued in the closing stages as prize Phoenix recruit Tomer Hemed found the back of the net after a strike from Davila deflected in off his body. But Wellington's joy was short lived as the flag went up for offside, ending the Nix's chances of a well-deserved equaliser and handing the Sky Blues all three points in the season opener.
Sotirio's superb first touch not matched by the finish
Jaushua Sotirio found himself eye-to-eye with Sydney shot-stopper Andrew Redmayne after touching a lofted through ball out of the air, around Wilkinson, and into the box.
The first touch was magnificent but his second – a dinked attempt on goal – lacked the same level of quality, as it flashed wide of the mark and dribbled out for a goal kick.
Long-range bomb from Nieuwenhof a Goal of the Season front-runner
Despite the 2020/21 campaign entering just its second Matchweek, Nieuwenhof has already joined the conversation for Goal of the Season with a superb strike from distance.
Poised with the ball in a paddock of space outside the box, Nieuwenhof took two touches before dispatching a shot off his right boot which continued to rise until rattling into the top-left corner.
Muratovic equalises on the cusp of half time
As the first half drew to a close it was another debutant – this time Mirza Muratovic, making his first appearance for Wellington – finding the back of the net, as the Phoenix made it 1-1 at the break.
Muratovic proved the beneficiary of a cross from Tim Payne, sending the ball across Andrew Redmayne, off the post and over the line.
Sky Blues strike again through Brattan dead-ball mastery
Inspired by Nieuwenhof's first-half rocket, Brattan ensured he would join his young teammate in the spotlight with a free-kick struck with authority into the top-right corner.
Brattan's shot bent off his right foot toward the corner and Stefan Marinovic was not up to the task of getting across to deal with the attempt. Instead, the ball flew past the outstretched hand of Wellington's gloveman to find the back of the net.
Hemed equaliser ruled offside
Deep into extra time Davila struck from the tip of the box in search of an equaliser.
The attempt found its way into the back of the net, wrong-footing Redmayne as it deflected off Hemed, but the Phoenix celebrations were short-lived as the flag went up to correctly rule the Wellington striker offside.
Macarthur FC v Wellington Phoenix
Saturday, January 9 2021
Kick-off 5:05pm AEDT
Brisbane Roar v Sydney FC
Sunday, January 10 2021
Kick-off 4:00pm AEDT
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