Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Fenton steals star's thunder

Louis Fenton looks to be an exciting prospect for the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images
Louis Fenton looks to be an exciting prospect for the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images

Wellington Phoenix 2
Sydney FC 0

Last night was all about an A-League debutant making his mark on the competition but it wasn't the player we had all expected.

While all the hype was around Alessandro Del Piero playing his first match Down Under - and the Italian legend showed genuine touches of class - he was overshadowed by an unheralded 19-year-old in his first professional outing.

Phoenix winger Louis Fenton was simply outstanding for the home side and scored a fantastic second half diving header (an early contender for goal of the week) to seal a deserved victory. It was reminiscent of Keith Houchen's effort for Coventry against Spurs in the 1987 FA Cup final, a famous goal that has been replayed endlessly over the years.

Playing on the left flank, the former Wellington player was a revelation. He has been highly touted during the pre-season and here was the evidence on display.

He showed real pace with the ball at his feet, an ability and willingness to beat his marker, while showing strength in possession.

Among a strong team effort, Manny Muscat was impressive in his new midfield role, combining his physical presence with some silky touches. He laid on both Phoenix goals.

It's only one game but the signs are extremely promising for Phoenix fans. They have genuine pace across the park and the injection of young blood has added some real energy to the men in yellow.

It was hard to recognise the Sydney FC side - there was a completely new backline and just three players remained from the team that started round one last year - but for them, last night was all about one man. After 19 seasons, 513 league matches and 209 goals with Juventus, Del Piero made his A-League debut in the unlikely surroundings of Westpac Stadium. He nominally started at striker but soon dropped back into a deep midfield role.

An early touch showed his class, as he nutmegged Muscat and jinked past Andrew Durante to create a shooting chance. He produced some delightful twists and turns in the middle of the park and the 37-year-old also looked dangerous from dead ball situations.

Leo Bertos showed promise in his new right fullback position, predictably looking good going forward, though he was occasionally guilty of ball-watching and got caught out of position.

It was a bright and breezy start from the home side. Stein Huysegems had three good heading opportunities in the first half hour, Jeremy Brockie blazed a half volley high and wide and Alex Smith had a strong header well saved by Sydney goalkeeper Ivan Necevski in the eighth minute. After a well worked move on the edge of the area, Benji Totori was released by Brockie but crashed his shot against the post.

In stark contrast to previous seasons, the Phoenix had plenty of genuine attacking weapons.

For a long time in the first half it looked like a goal might not come - and Sydney started to fashion a few chances in the latter stages - but the Phoenix finally scored in the 42nd minute through Huysegems and it was a peach of a goal.

Muscat came up with a lofted pass for the Belgian, who cushioned the ball perfectly before slotting it into the corner of the goal from 12 yards.

Huysegems looks a good buy; he makes clever runs, is two-footed, composed on the ball and brings team-mates into the game well.

Paul Ifill had his usual impact, having a shot cleared off the line within minutes of coming on midway through the second half.

There were some promising moments in the second half for the visitors, mainly inspired by Del Piero, but there was fairly incessant pressure on Necevski in the Sydney goal.

The second goal was a pearler; Muscat floating a delightful cross from the right hand side and Fenton appearing out of nowhere to dive full length and power a perfect header inches inside the near post in the 75th minute.

Del Piero will improve across the season and looks good but thankfully for the Phoenix, so will Fenton, a man who is half his age.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (S. Huysegems 42', L. Fenton 75')
Sydney FC 0.
Halftime:1-0.

- Herald on Sunday

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