Wellington Phoenix 2
Central Coast Mariners 1
The Wellington Phoenix have produced a smash-and-grab to notch their first win of the new A-League season, beating the league-leading Central Coast Mariners 2-1 in Gosford.
Substitute Jaushua Sotirio was the man of the hour, latching onto a long pass from Alex Rufer in the dying moments and finishing with aplomb to secure his side three points that for large parts of the second half looked highly unlikely.
In a classic of the "game-of-two-halves" genre, the Phoenix were the better team for the majority of the first half, while their hosts completely dominated the second. Coach Ufuk Talay made two changes to the Wellington side that started last weekend's loss to Newcastle with Alex Rufer returning from suspension and Clayton Lewis also restored to the starting eleven.
Wellington opened the scoring in eye-catching fashion on the quarter-hour through skipper Ulises Davila who shrugged off a defender before playing the ball forward to fellow import Tomer Hemed. The Israeli produced a slick back-heel into the path of the advancing Davila who arrowed a low, left-footed strike beyond Mariners goalkeeper Mark Birighitti and inside the right-hand post.
Davila was clearly in the mood, finding himself on the end of a flowing move ten minutes later, but this time placing his right-footed effort high and wide. He also fired a low free-kick around the Mariners' defensive wall which Birighitti palmed aside and from the resulting corner, Lewis flashed a left-footed speculator through a crowded penalty area but just wide of the post.
Having had the better of the first half, Wellington conceded a disappointing equaliser four minutes before the break. The Mariners' leading scorer Alou Kuol escaped his marker at a left-wing corner and powerfully headed home his third goal of the season with the assistance of a slight deflection which helped deceive Stefan Marinovic in the Phoenix goal.
The Mariners used the goal as a springboard and controlled proceedings after halftime, with Wellington struggling to refind the rhythm that had served them so well in the first 40 minutes. Kuol and Matthew Simon presented a constant aerial threat while Marinovic had to be at his best to tip a 25-metre curler from Oliver Bozanic over the bar.
In easily their least impressive half of the season, the Phoenix were unable to find any fluidity or string together the passing movements which have become the side's hallmark under Talay. But the often-maligned Sotirio produced the spark from the bench which might just kick-start a season which has started slowly for the Nix.
The victory lifts them off the bottom of the A-League ladder ahead of a meeting with the defending champions Sydney FC at Jubilee Stadium next Monday.
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Davila 15, Sotirio 88)
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Kuol 41)