Phoenix fans have new crowd favourite
It is only one game, and the Wellington Phoenix will face much stiffer opposition than an underdone Sydney FC throughout this A-League season.
But it was impossible to ignore the feeling that a star was born at a slippery Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.
Tawa teenager Louis Fenton had struggled to sleep in the buildup to his professional debut but the fleet-footed winger with the orange boots lived up to the Marco Rojas comparisons.
Energetic and assured in almost everything he did, Fenton capped his evening by meeting Manny Muscat's cross with a brilliant diving header to seal a 2-0 win and set 12,057 tongues wagging.
"I've been nervous all week," the former Team Wellington flier said.
"Probably last night was my first decent sleep so it's good to be out there. Just a great ball from Manny and I just ran on to it and it hit my head and went in. I'm really sore, I just want to go back to bed. I don't really want to do this after-match [function]. I'm really tired."
Fenton's performance overshadowed another league debutant, Sydney's World Cup winner Alessandro Del Piero, in a game shown live on Italian television.
"I don't know what to say about that, it's just a bit crazy really," Fenton said.
Sydney were well off the pace as the Phoenix grabbed the initiative from the opening whistle and never let it go.
The defence was stout, Muscat was outstanding in the centre of the park, while the new look attacking quartet of Fenton, Benjamin Totori, Jeremy Brockie and Stein Huysegems oozed pace and potential.
Former Belgian international Huysegems kicked things off with a cool left-footed finish from another fine Muscat delivery just shy of halftime.
It was the perfect start for the 30-year-old striker, who displayed a Chris Greenacre-like workrate, and like Fenton he celebrated with gusto.
"As a striker you always feel pressure to score goals and it's good for me I could score my first goal in my first game," Huysegems said.
"The crowd was good and of course when you score a goal it's beautiful. The emotions that go through your body, that's beautiful."
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert signalled his intentions by naming an attacking bench of Paul Ifill, Tyler Boyd and Ricardo Clarke.
All three got a run, with Ifill looking likely and teenagers Boyd and Clarke making their debuts.
The Phoenix are often excellent at home and average away, but with extra depth and quality in the squad this year, Herbert was encouraged.
"We've just got a little bit of difference in the side this year," Herbert said. "Certainly at the top we're quicker and more mobile. We've worked really hard at that movement and pace at the top. It's great to see it come together."
Del Piero, 37, cut a frustrated figure at times as he struggled to get on the same wavelength as his less illustrious team-mates. But he proved himself far from washed up with some quality touches and afterwards doffed his cap to the home side.
"All of Wellington played a very good match," Del Piero said.
"They are strong and they play good, heavy balls, they have good ideas. Congratulations to you Phoenix and we see you next game."
The only damper on the night was a pre-match storm which Phoenix general manager David Dome believed kept 2000 to 3000 fans away.
"There's no doubt we were disappointed . . . We were certainly on track for 15,000 but that downpour killed us," Dome said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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