At the end of a long, dark tunnel, a glimmer of light emerged for Wellington Phoenix tonight as they beat Melbourne City 2-1 at Albany to notch just their fifth win of the season and move off the bottom of the A-League ladder.
That ray of hope shone brightest through the feats of two teenagers who the Phoenix would do well to build their team around for the next few years. Sarpreet Singh's brace of goals capped another composed performance from one of New Zealand's brightest young talents, while Liberato Cacace was again a standout at left back. Were it not for the school holidays, he'd be back at St Pat's College on Monday.
The visitors were confirmed in third place before kickoff, but came out looking every inch a side that had won four on the bounce. Their slick passing, clever movement and incisive interplay in the middle and attacking thirds caused plenty of early problems for the Phoenix defence with rising star Daniel Arzani and nippy fullback Nathaniel Atkinson combining to regular and dangerous effect down the Phoenix's left. It was no surprise when Uruguayan sharpshooter Bruno Fornaroli fizzed in a fabulous goal after 20 minutes to put City ahead.
But Wellington started to grow into the game and when an errant back-pass was seized upon by Roy Krishna, he fed Matija Ljujic who poked the ball forward to Singh on the penalty spot. Displaying the composure and poise which have hallmarked his performances this season, the young attacker moved the ball away from a clutch of defenders before steering a low, left-footed strike past Dean Bouzanis.
City seemed surprised to find themselves level and that turned to shock just before the hour-mark when Singh drove into the heart of their defence and fired another left-footed thunderbolt goalwards. This one took a wicked deflection off a defender, leaving Bouzanis stranded and Singh celebrating his fourth goal of the season.
Youngsters Cacace and Arzani engaged in a fascinating running battle which the Phoenix defender edged on points, helping his side nullify a large part of City's threat. Phoenix old-boy Dario Vidosic saw his injury time header cannon off the post, but in reality the three points were no less than Wellington deserved.
With major decisions to be made in the weeks ahead, not least of which are the appointment of a new coach and the addressing of their plethora of off-contract players, the Phoenix can at least enter those discussions with a small spring in their step.
This win won't paper over the cracks of a wretched season, but it at least gave the club and its fans a glimpse into what could be a far brighter future, a future where Kiwi stars like Singh and Cacace simply must play a prominent role.
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Singh 33, 58)
Melbourne City 1 (Fornaroli 20)