Western Sydney Wanderers 3
Wellington Phoenix 0
Goals were always going to be a problem for the Wellington Phoenix this season, especially early in the campaign, and so it proved on Saturday night.
The Wanderers were good value for their 3-0 win — it perhaps could have been more — as the Phoenix had little of quality in the final third.
A second half penalty, unfortunately conceded by milestone man Andrew Durante, sealed the result for the visitors, after they had opened the scoring in the 11th minute with a neatly constructed move.
New coach Mark Rudan has built a stronger defensive base, but creating attacking combinations always takes much longer, and the Phoenix have a modest roster.
The Phoenix relied on building pressure through frustration in their previous two games, and then exploiting space as the game opened up. But the Wanderers' early goal, and assured display in possession made that difficult.
In trying conditions, the home side huffed and puffed, but the only fireworks on display were the early Guy Fawkes celebrations around the Wellington isthmus. The Phoenix couldn't string much together in possession, and only really looked dangerous from set pieces, especially inswinging corners in the blustery conditions. Spanish import Mandi still looks short of match fitness, and fellow midfielders Mitch Nichols and Alex Rufer struggled to impose themselves on the game.
It was always going to be a tough assignment; the Wanderers were unbeaten in their last seven games against Wellington (five wins and two draws) and have a roster stacked full of talent.
It was Durante's 250th game for the club, and a haka welcomed him and his family onto the pitch. Rudan rolled the dice for the match, with starts for Nichols and Max Burgess for the first time this season.
Conditions were awful. The rain, which started as a drizzle, got progressively heavier as the match progressed. It wasn't quite Germany versus Poland in 1974 — the famed 'Water Battle of Frankfurt' — but precise passing was difficult as the ball slowed on the waterlogged surface. Accompanying the rain was the notorious Wellington wind, a savage gale blowing straight up the park.
Somewhat surprisingly, the visitors adapted better.
Roly Bonevacia, who played 80 games across three seasons across for the Phoenix, initiated the opening goal against his former club. His slide rule pass sliced the Wellington defence wide open, and German import Alex Baumjohann finished the subsequent cross with aplomb in the 11th minute.
Baumjohann was a class above. The attacking midfielder has had spells at several Bundesliga clubs — including Schalke 04, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern Munich — and it showed, with his touch and vision standing out.
The Sydney team dominated the rest of the half, with their neat passing in the trying conditions, though the Phoenix created half chances for Roy Krishna and Liberato Cacace.
Oriol Riera extended the Wanderers lead in the 55th minute from the spot, when a shot struck Durante's elbow as he blocked a shot. It was a 50-50 call, but probably fair enough.
Nathan Burns and Sarpreet Singh were summoned for the last half hour, with the Australian heading against a post in injury time, before Jordan O'Doherty profited from a last minute break away.
Western Sydney Wanderers 3 (A Baumjohann, O Riera pen, J O'Doherty)
Wellington Phoenix 0