The experience of Stein Huysegems and Carlos Hernandez were influential as the Wellington Phoenix pushed into the top six of the A-League with a 3-2 win at Newcastle yesterday, though the durability of the club's next generation was pinpointed by coach Ernie Merrick.
Huysegems became the competition's joint leading scorer with his ninth goal, and Costa Rican playmaker Hernandez set the Phoenix's sixth win in eight matches in motion before tormenting the Jets back four.
Yet the victory was also based on the contributions of teenage midfielder Matthew Ridenton, debutant Josh Brindell-South, tireless midfielder Tyler Boyd and supersub Jason Hicks.
The Phoenix again defied the loss of key personnel - Albert Riera, Kenny Cunningham and Michael Boxall - to continue their resurgence at Hunter Stadium by extending the Jets' record winless streak to seven games.
"To see Matt Ridenton come on and do so well; Tyler Boyd, another good performance; Alex Rufer is another 17-year-old," said Merrick, referring to the legendary Wynton's nephew after his five-minute cameo at the close.
Brindell-South also emerged with credit after his long-awaited debut, seven months after his last club game in his native Brisbane.
The 21-year-old was given a torrid time by Craig Goodwin - the scorer of both Newcastle goals - but Merrick would have persevered with him at right back had he not cramped up at the hour mark.
At that stage the game was still in the balance but minutes after an exhausted Boyd and Brindall- South finally retreated, Hicks slammed home his first A-League goal from the edge of the area in the 70th minute.
"I play 11 v 11 midweek and Josh just looked very composed and I made the right choice. He was terrific," said Merrick, who did not blame the rookie for being skinned before Goodwin beat Glenn Moss with a curler to equalise a second time.
"Goodwin's goal was first-class. You can only do so much as a defender. He's got great engines, he's up and down, he's fast and he can play left or right."
Brindell-South eventually succumbed to the heat near the hour mark and was not alone as the Phoenix defied the elements to maintain an impressive sequence.
"We don't really acclimatise to this weather, the boys were dying. At halftime some of the boys were two to three-and-a-half kilos lighter.
"They lost a lot of fluid so to get those young boys to play under those conditions and away from home . . . I thought they just did a fantastic job."
There was plenty of cause to rehydrate before Sunday's home game with the Melbourne Heart, particularly after the bottom- placed club upset Perth Glory 2-1, a result that lifted the Phoenix into the playoff frame with nine games remaining.
The Phoenix initially resembled Liverpool during their 5-1 English Premier League rout of Arsenal at Anfield, sweeping on to attack from the kickoff, though they lacked Liverpool's killer instinct in front of goal, not that Merrick was disheartened.
"The mentality I'm trying to instil in the boys is start off scoring goals and in the 93rd minute see if you can score another one," he said.
"The attitude towards attacking football away from home just seems to have swung around 180 degrees from where we started in round one."
Merrick, who started his tenure with a 10-game winless streak, never lost faith - and is confident the team is capable of qualifying for the finals series, a dramatic turnaround since they finished bottom in 2012-13.
"This win is very significant. These three games [Adelaide last weekend, Newcastle and Melbourne Heart] were against teams at the same level as us," he said.
"It's almost like you're playing for double points."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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