Wellington Phoenix trounce Western Sydney 3-1
A festive season transformed into a bright new dawn for the Wellington Phoenix as their A-League revival continued with a Stein Huysegems-inspired 3-1 upset of the Western Sydney Wanderers
The Phoenix's third consecutive win muted the competition's most vocally hostile fans and continued to silence doubters as the depleted playing roster made the ideal start to 2014 with only their second win over last season's runners-up in six meetings.
Two previous contests between the supposed title contenders and the current wooden spooners resulted in draws but the Phoenix were not content to settle for a point against the best defence in the league after falling behind just past the hour mark.
Derided after a series of misses -- including a penalty against the Central Coast Mariners last month - Huysegems again emerged as the Phoenix's hero by setting up the equaliser before putting the Phoenix in front and then making the game safe with a classy clip home from a Tyler Boyd cross with seven minutes remaining.
Boyd, a canny second half substitute for Kenny Cunningham, silenced the characteristically vocal Red and Black Bloc for the first time four minutes after Mark Bridge's 62nd minute opener when he slid in to make contact with a neat Huysegems cross and push the ball past Ante Covic.
The Belgian, who scored the winners against Sydney FC and Melbourne Heart, crafted the go-ahead goal in the 78th minute when he dispossessed Aaron Mooy outside the area then headed goal bound before slotting the ball between Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Iacopo La Rocca past a floundering Covic.
Huysegems then benefited from an assist from Boyd, who crossed from the right flank for the Phoenix's leading scorer to deftly direct the ball past Covic from close range to spark wild celebrations among a pocket of visiting fans.
The Wanderers, who were destined to remain second behind the Brisbane Roar regardless of the outcome, made a half dozen changes to the side that settled for a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory in their most recent outing.
Japanese marquee import Shinji Ono and striker Tomi Juric were two notable inclusions as coach Tony Popovic adheres to a rotation policy that saw the duo rested from the stalemate with the Victory.
Juric had the first clear scoring opportunity in the 13th minute when his free header cleared the bar while Ono was within millimetres of breaking the deadlock in the final minute of the opening half when he nodded a Jerome Polenz cross on to the underside of the bar before the Phoenix scrambled the ball clear for a corner.
Popovic's counterpart Ernie Merrick does not enjoy the luxury of resting his stars and to underscore his depleted offensive resources, he has to compensate without his two most creative players - Carlos Hernandez - for up to six weeks - and Paul Ifill - for the season.
Jason Hicks was asked to fill in for Hernandez and slotted in as the conduit between holding midfielders Albert Riera and Vince Lia and the three-pronged strike force of Jeremy Brockie, Huysegems and Kenny Cunningham.
Huysegems made little impact up to halftime, his long range strike after 21 minutes that cleared the bar summed up the Phoenix's lack of opportunities despite the visitors enjoying the bulk of possession - but he toiled away and ultimately his perseverance was rewarded.
Merrick was forced to rejig his back four five minutes before the break when Louis Fenton - who had been in doubt with a shoulder injury - retreated in pain after hurting the right joint when he was clipped during a Phoenix counter attack.
Michael Boxall replaced Fenton at right back while Merrick made another change at hafltime when Hicks was substituted for 17-year-old Matthew Ridenton in midfield who added to his 17 minutes of A-League experience with a solid shift.
The ninth-placed Phoenix's busy schedule now offers respite with their next assignment not until January 12 at Westpac Stadium against reigning champions the Central Coast Mariners. No doubt, it can't come around quick enough.
Wellington Phoenix 3 (Tyler Boyd 66, Stein Huysegems 78, 83)
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Mark Bridge 62)