Wellington Phoenix to the four in second half

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 23:50 21/02/2014
Kenny Cunningham and Carlos Hernandez
Getty Images
COSTA RICAN CONNECTION: Kenny Cunningham hugs Carlos Hernandez after one of the Phoenix's four second-half goals in 4-1 victory over Central Coast.

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A spectacular, Costa Rican-inspired second half from the Wellington Phoenix has ended their misery against the Central Coast Mariners and put their finals plans back on track.

Tonight's come-from-behind 4-1 defeat of the defending A-League champions in Gosford was the Phoenix's first victory over the Mariners in 11 attempts, dating back to August 2010.

It appeared as though Central Coast would maintain their stranglehold at halftime, looking comfortable and holding a 1-0 lead, thanks to Bernie Ibini's 20th minute strike.

The Phoenix had been flat, perhaps down on confidence following last week's record 5-0 flogging at the hands of the Melbourne Heart.

But whatever coach Ernie Merrick said at halftime worked a treat, as the Phoenix stunned their hosts with four second half goals.

Costa Rican World Cup hopefuls Kenny Cunningham and Carlos Hernandez kicked things off with excellent strikes before Stein Huysegems, who now leads the golden boot race with 10 goals, and substitute Jeremy Brockie, further twisted the knife.

It was stunning stuff at the attacking end but goalkeeper Glen Moss was also a hero, saving Mile Sterjovski's penalty in the 54th minute and then denying the striker again in the 77th.

Reece Caira was the spark for the Phoenix's first goal just after halftime.

The recalled left back got involved deep in enemy territory and his cross took a lucky deflection and fell almost perfectly for Cunningham.

Cunningham's touch had let him down in the first half but not this time as he took advantage of the opening with a powerful and accurate strike, his fifth goal of the campaign.

It was the Phoenix's first goal in Gosford for 327 minutes but after having a taste they got greedy.

It looked like Central Coast would regain the lead when referee Alan Milliner awarded a penalty for a Andrew Durante handball.

The skipper was unfortunate - his arms were raised appealing for a free kick when the contact was made.

In any case, Moss dived low to his right to deny Sterjovski's weak effort.

It deflated the hosts and the Phoenix pounced, scoring two goals in two minutes.

First, Hernandez received the ball on the edge of the box from Manny Muscat, turned, and despite limited space curled a wicked shot into the top-right corner.

Suitably inspired upon the resumption, Cunningham sprinted at the backtracking Mariners defence like a man possessed, eventually heading into Huysegems' path for the easiest of tap-ins.

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Merrick knows a good thing when he sees it and thrust the out-of-sorts Brockie into action to fill his boots too.

The All White enjoyed a tap-in of his own in the 82nd minute with Huysegems this time the provider.

The three points lifted the Phoenix back into the top-six, although Sydney FC could bump them back out when they visit the Newcastle Jets tomorrow.

The Phoenix will stay on in Australia to prepare for Thursday's game against Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium.

Wellington Phoenix 4 (Kenny Cunningham, Carlos Hernandez, Stein Huysegems, Jeremy Brockie) Central Coast 1 (Bernie Ibini) HT: 0-1

- Fairfax Media

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