Phoenix find form against Heart
At last, the Wellington Phoenix look like a football team.
A team which has lurched between drab and disastrous this season suddenly saw the light in Dunedin, turning on a scintillating display of attacking football to down Melbourne Heart 1-0.
While the scoreline was close on paper, this was a game the Phoenix, the bottom side in the A League, controlled almost throughout, and the quality of performance will have left fans wondering what might have been this season.
After multiple lack-lustre displays which saw coach Ricki Herbert walk the plank last week, few would have expected the bravado with which the Phoenix launched themselves at the Heart.
Two minutes into the match Jeremy Brockie hit the bar, setting the tone for a first half which Wellington completely dominated.
Belgian striker Stein Huysengems hit the crossbar and post, Ben Sigmund bounced a header into the turf and over when he should have buried the chance in the back of the net, and a rejuvenated Paul Ifill scythed his way through the Heart defence at will.
It was no surprise when the Phoenix took the lead. Silky work down the left wing by Ifill was complimented by a pin point cross Jeremy Brockie easily volleyed in from close up.
With Manny Muscat restored to right back and Leo Bertos to midfield, the Phoenix were a much sharper looking team.
With the front three swapping positions at will and the livewire Corey Gameiro playing an important linking role, danger lurked everywhere and the Heart defence were in the sort of disarray the Phoenix have so often been in this A League season.
In the second half the Phoenix lacked the same bravura, but were solid right across the park and were seldom theatened by a Heart side that looked bereft of ideas, even after the introduction of Brazilian playmaker Fred.
Wellington's inspiration, Paul Ifill, by contrast, remained a constant threat and with one sumptuous run and shot almost scored the goal his display deserved.
Not even the late dismissal of Huysengems for a second bookable offence could upset the Phoenix, who thoroughly deserved their win.
Interim Phoenix coach Chris Greenacre was a thrilled and highly relieved man after chalking up his first win.
"It has been a trying week and I'm delighted for the players. They've put up with a lot of stuff this year and I'm absolutely delighted for them. In all fairness, I think it was nothing more than they deserved. They were magnificent, they created opportunities, and I'm absolutely delighted for them."
Greenacre said that the switching of Manny Muscat to right back and Leo Bertos to midfield was a reaction to the disappointing performance against Newcastle on Wednesday. The return of Stein Huysengems to the starting line up likewise was an attempt to create more attacking spark.
"In the Newcastle game we didn't have too many options up front. Looking at the stats we played something like 78 long balls but we weren't getting anywhere near them up top. I had no qualms about moving Manny back because we all know what a job he's done out there, and I thought it might just free Leo up a little bit and give him a bit of width, out where he loves to be.
"I thought it would give us a few options up top with Stein and Brockie, because I thought Brockie needed to have the workload shared out a little, and Stein's got a great work ethic."
Heart coach John Aloisi made no excuses for a poor showing.
"We didn't really cause them a lot of problems, we were very disappointing," he said.
"I am disappointed with the performance most of all, we didn't threaten them enough... We found it hard to get in to the game because Wellington pushed us from the start, and they changed things around a little - we weren't expecting so many forward players."
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