Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Soccer: Phoenix hammer Melbourne Victory

Carlos Hernandez of the Phoenix celebrates his goal. Photo / Getty Images
Carlos Hernandez of the Phoenix celebrates his goal. Photo / Getty Images

When the Wellington Phoenix were battling through a dire start to the season under new coach Ernie Merrick it would have been easy for people to wonder whether the club had made the right decision to hire the Scotsman.

Wellington went without a win for their first 10 games of the A-League campaign as Merrick tried to turn the club around following last year's wooden spoon season.

But rebuilding a football team doesn't happen overnight and Merrick never wavered in his belief in his players and his methods.

The Phoenix finally got over the hump with a scrappy 1-0 win over Sydney FC in round 11 just before Christmas and haven't looked back.

After last night's 5-0 win over the Melbourne Victory at Westpac Stadium, Merrick took the opportunity to put the focus on his players, who have turned their season around in stunning fashion during an unbeaten run in their past five games.

"I just think the boys, their attitude to continue to improve has been first-class,'' Merrick said.

"Even though we went 10 games without a win, their attitude never faltered.''

Wellington's mammoth win over the Victory, which came courtesy of a double to Carlos Hernandez and goals to Kenny Cunningham, Jeremy Brockie and Stein Huysegems, had been brewing.

The Phoenix simply had too many variables go against them during the opening third of the season and while it's easy to say a team were `due', they really were.

"I think it was long overdue that we won a game and won a game well,'' Merrick said.

"We've threatened to do it several times and sure, against the Wanderers [on New Year's Day] we won 3-1, but [last night] we dominated the game from end to end and we created numerous goal-scoring chances and it sort of all came together and now the challenge is to repeat that ongoing.''

The challenge continues against the Roar in Brisbane on Friday, but more on that shortly.

Last night's win was possibly the most complete performance in the club's history as the Victory were completely shut out of the game.

They barely fired a shot in the 90 minutes and change at the Cake Tin, while they were regularly on the back foot against Wellington's advances.

"It's pretty easy to assess, to be honest, we didn't really turn up,'' Victory coach Kevin Muscat said after the game.

Hernandez began the scoring in the 18th minute when he hammered home a sharp shot from inside the top of the box and when Cunningham added a fine long-range effort on the stroke of halftime, the home side were rolling.

Hernandez wasn't done though and he added a penalty before the first spell was complete and the Phoenix left Westpac Stadium to a standing ovation at the split.

Many who have attended Wellington's home games this summer must have been stunned in some manner given the way the Phoenix looked like a different outfit to the side who bumbled their way through the early rounds of the season.

The healthy lead meant the second half could have fizzled out but the arrival of Brockie in to the contest with around 10 minutes left injected some life to the game.

The All Whites striker found his first A-League goal since round four when he finished neatly in the 85th minute and he was then involved in the lead-up to Huysegems' effort shortly after as the Yellow Fever called for more.

There wasn't to be another goal but the fans went home happy with five of the best seen at Westpac Stadium this season.

Meeting the Roar in Brisbane will be a tough ask for Wellington, which has been made even harder given Hernandez and Cunningham have both been released to play for Costa Rica in two international friendly matches this week.

The games don't fall within an official Fifa window but Merrick said the club were happy to play ball.

"Costa Rica are in the World Cup, we are doing the right thing.''

The pair are expected to be back for Wellington's home-away-from-home game against Adelaide United on Saturday, February 1 at Eden Park in Auckland.

Wellington have moved to eighth on the A-League ladder following last night's win and are only one win away from pushing in to the top six as they eye the playoffs

Wellington Phoenix 5 (Carlos Hernandez 18, 45+2, Kenny Cunningham 45, Jeremy Brockie 85, Stein Huysegems 88) Melbourne Victory 0 Halftime 3-0.

- APNZ

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