Wellington Phoenix stun EPL side West Ham
West Ham United have had their Premier League bags sent packing, stunned 2-1 by the Wellington Phoenix in Auckland tonight.
Two goals in the first half-hour of the Eden Park exhibition saw captain Andrew Durante and Alex Rodriguez dispatch excellent finishes to give the Phoenix one of their most iconic victories in the short history of the A-League club - and one which will no doubt be remembered for years to come.
In fact, Wellington Phoenix captain Durante described it as a win for the entire country.
"First and foremost, beating a Premier League side is a huge achievement for this club," Durante said.
"It's great, it was a great feeling. The team are very excited. It was a big occasion for us and a big occasion for New Zealand. We're just glad that we contributed to a pretty good game.
"Credit to West Ham, they put us under the pump, especially toward the end of the game. Ernie spoke to us all week about just enjoying ourselves, not going into our shell and letting the occasion overawe us."
Phoenix coach, Ernie Merrick, said it was important to keep feet planted on the ground and the performance represented a positive step.
"You know me, I'm very careful not to get carried away with something like this," Merrick said.
"Glen Moss pulled off a couple of great saves, it could have gone the other way but there are a lot of good signs. I won't get carried away with it. West Ham were a wee bit unlucky today.
"It was crucial for us to put on a good performance, to win the ball and keep it. Our real strength was a rock-solid backline who were well protected by a bank of midfielders.
"For the boys to perform like that, it was outstanding."
Merrick said the important thing was now for his side to re-focus for Saturday's game against Newcastle United.
"We want to play well there. My concern is getting them to recover for the next one."
The New Zealand tour of West Ham United and Newcastle United has been billed as a Premier League experience for Kiwi fans. But so far, the reality is pure, unadulterated FA Cup.
It was the multi-millionaire world stars against the underdogs, the have's against the have-nots - and reminders of the gulf between the teams were everywhere.
In contrast to the audacious, heated leather sports car seats at the Boleyn Ground, West Ham's substitutes and management had to make do with plastic garden furniture lined up on the side of the Eden Park pitch.
Instead of the intense atmosphere of a sold-out Boleyn Ground, it was a chant-free stadium with plenty of spare seats. And on the field with the multimillion dollar assets were also the likes of Albert Riera, who wasn't even playing for a professional club a matter of months ago. The stage was well and truly set.
And in just the 11th minute, the very essence of the FA Cup, the dream of a famous giant-killing, came to life.
When Mark Noble cynically hauled Nathan Burns to the ground by his shirt, the Phoenix earned a free kick close to the West Ham by-line and the edge of the penalty area.
Noticing his captain running unmarked into the near post, Rodriguez pinged his cross in for Durante to glance superbly past Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Fifteen minutes later Phoenix fans were less pinching themselves, more slapping each other around the face when Rodriguez turned from provider to goalscorer and doubled the lead.
Winning a 50/50 ball 35 metres out, the West Ham defence invited Rodriguez on, he obliged, and after a couple of touches shot form the edge of the box and bustled the right of Jaaskelainen's net.
West Ham weren't without their moments, with their slick passing and rapid attacks incising the Phoenix almost at leisure. The pace and clearly took the Phoenix by surprise out of the gate, with both All Whites captain Winston Reid and Cheikhou Kouyate receiving clumsy, potentially dangerous - though not intentional - tackles. The challenges were simply just late.
At the break, the faces of West Ham's players trudging off the field said it all. The giant-killing was well and truly on.
The size and strength of the Londoners saw them force possession throughout the game, but even through the second half when clearly, they were trying to press the issue with Sam Allardyce making nine substitutions, the Phoenix stuck to their task, playing with confidence and cohesion.
To their credit, the Phoenix refused to sit on the two-goal lead and just after the hour, could easily have been 4-0 up.
Nathan Burns had a powerful long-range shot drift just wide of the post while a minute later, substitute Kenny Cunningham should have done better after Jeremy Brockie put him through with a deft, volleyed flick with the outside of his boot while on the run.
The Phoenix frustrated West Ham, who even when they did break, couldn't bust the yellow and black wall on the edge of Glen Moss' area.
Moss, who has been in superb form for both club and country recently, also deserves notable mention. Had it not been for his reaction save from Carlton Cole in just the eighth minute, the momentum of the match would have been totally different.
Twenty minutes from time Moss was beaten however, when substitute Mauro Zarate shot powerfully from range, teeing up a tense finish.
Zarate steered just wide eight minutes later and as the clock wound down, the Premier League outfit were finding more possession, more space and a lot more opportunities.
Five added-on minutes saw the crowd find voice, disgruntlement mainly at the extra time they had to hang on.
But the night proved to be Merrick's, who will no doubt have learned a significant amount from his Phoenix squad. On that performance, the Phoenix will be ones to watch in the upcoming A-League season - with consistency now their biggest question.
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Andrew Durante, Alex Rodriguez) West Ham 1 (Mauro Zarate). HT: 2-0