The Wellington Phoenix moved to the summit of the Hyundai A-League (albeit temporarily) with two late goals earning them a hard-fought 2-0 win over Adelaide United at the Hutt Recreation Ground.
As the game ticked towards its final ten minutes, substitute Joel Griffiths finally broke the deadlock, sliding in at the near post to divert home from close range before Nathan Burns made it a dozen goals for the season with a well-directed header just minutes later.
Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante marshalled his defence superbly in windy and sometimes difficult underfoot conditions, and while the first half was an arm-wrestle with few clear-cut chances, the Phoenix’s trademark fitness eventually proved crucial as they claimed all three points.
Joel Griffiths (79th minute)
Deep in the attacking third and wide on the left, fullback Louis Fenton wriggled away from his marker and drove towards the touchline before providing a cross with the outside of his right foot to Joel Griffiths who arrived at the near post to poke home his first Phoenix goal.
Nathan Burns (82nd minute)
Roly Bonevacia curled a right-wing free-kick into a crowded penalty area, where Nathan Burns somehow found space to direct a powerful downward header past Eugene Galekovic to notch his twelfth goal of the season.
Joel Griffiths showed exactly why Ernie Merrick brought him to the Phoenix. Introduced with half an hour to go, the veteran striker gave the Adelaide defence no respite and broke the deadlock with a poacher’s goal in the six-yard box. On this performance, many will hope his short-term stay can be extended beyond this A-League season.
Opta Data key stats
The stats for possession, territory and duels both on the deck and in the air tell the story of an extremely even contest between two teams desperate for all three points.
Adelaide may rue their inability to hit the target however, with just two of their ten shots bringing Glen Moss into action.
At 2-0 up, the Phoenix turned on the style with one sweeping move down the right involving two delightful back-heels from Rodriguez and Bonevacia before Nathan Burns received a pass, beat a man inside the penalty area and fired a left-foot shot just wide of the right-hand post. Apart from the net not bulging, it was picture perfect.
Michael McGlinchey was withdrawn early after a week of calf soreness and is in doubt to face Perth next weekend.
Back to the drawing board
Successive losses for Josep Gombau’s side will have some doubting their championship credentials, but there’s too much quality on the Reds roster for the mini-slump to last too long.
The Final Word
After four goalless games which stalled their season after the Asian Cup, the Phoenix have relaunched their title charge with wins over two of the top three in successive weeks to move to the rarefied air at the top of the A-League ladder.
The Phoenix’s ability to finish games strongly was again to the fore, with the knack of creating and finishing chances late in games a key to their success in 2014/15.
Adelaide will lick their wounds, but most would expect them to come back strongly. They may yet get a chance in the playoffs for revenge over a side that has now beaten them home and away in the regular season.
Wellington Phoenix: Moss, Boxall, Sigmund, Durante, Fenton, Riera, Rodriguez, Bonevacia, McGlinchey (Lia), Burns (Hicks), Krishna (Griffiths).
Adelaide United: Galekovic, Marrone, Boogaard, McGowan, Elrich (Goodwin), Jeggo, Isaias, Carrusca, Cirio, Djite (Mabil), Palanca (Sanchez)
Scorers: Wellington Phoenix: Griffiths, Burns
Red cards: n/a
Yellow cards: Adelaide United: Elrich, Boogaard
Conditions: Scattered showers, 17 degrees