Wellington Phoenix have avoided an FFA Cup upset in the Round 16, comfortably dispatching of NPL Victoria powerhouse Avondale 4-1 at ABD Stadium on Tuesday night and sending them into the cup quarterfinals for the first time in the club’s history.
Wellington did not waste much time asserting themselves into the tie, as Louis Fenton carried the ball into space before playing a perfectly weighted ball in behind the Avondale backline for Jaushua Sotirio to latch onto, who finished with aplomb past Avondale goalkeeper Rory Brian, elevating the New Zealand outfit into the ascendancy almost immediately.
Sotirio quickly found himself at the double ten minutes later, a flick-on from Manchester City academy graduate David Ball was perfect for the scorer of Wellington’s first goal, who bagged himself a brace with an exquisite lob from all of 25 yards that showed his class in microcosm and doubled the Nix’s advantage in the process.
The result was put beyond doubt when the Phoenix notched their third of the evening when Alex Rufer guided Sotirio’s brilliant cross down to Ben Waine, allowing the New Zealand Olympian to tap home from point-blank range, heaping further misery on the Victorian outfit.
Further salt was rubbed into the wounds for the Avengers when Blake Carpenter was given his marching orders for a dreadful challenge on young full-back Louis Fenton, leaving Avondale without a full complement of players for the final 65 minutes of the evening’s proceedings.
Avondale did give their fans something to shout about late on when Matthew Reid headed home from close range, but it remained only a consolation as the Phoenix found a fourth with Luka Prso scoring late on, setting up a tantalising quarterfinal tie with reigning league champions Melbourne City.
PRESSURE ON UFUK TALAY EASES A LITTLE
After a 4-0 humbling by the Newcastle Jets on Friday night, the microscope was placed squarely on Ufuk Talay and his charges to respond with progression in the FFA Cup. After banishing the club’s FFA Cup hoodoo somewhat with the win of Western United in the Round of 32, the Phoenix entered uncharted waters by entering the FFA Cup’s final eight for the first time since its inception, something that will ease the mounting pressure on Ufuk Talay, if only slightly.
Talay’s decision to show faith in Jaushua Sotirio after not starting him from the outset proved to be a masterstroke of the highest order, as the attacker ran rampant against a normally resolute Avondale backline that fell well below par. The decision to re-introduce Ben Waine from the outset also instantly bore fruits, with a goal further cementing Talay’s coaching performance on the night.
While league form is set to be more pivotal than a cup run in terms of determining how long Talay lasts in the Nix hot seat, a great performance and progression in the FFA Cup provides welcome respite for a team flattering to deceive in the league.
THE SOTIRIO SHOW
When Jaushua Sotirio was named in the starting eleven for the clash, it loomed as the perfect opportunity for him to show what he is capable of, after a relative lack of opportunities in the A-League Men competition.
With only a solitary start coming against the Central Coast Mariners, and 79 minutes off the bench in two other league matches, a start against lower-league opposition was exactly what the 26-year old needed.
With a lethal finish inside the 18-yard box to open his account for the night, before an inch-perfect chip sealed his second, the outstanding performance will do wonders for his confidence, doing his chances of staying in the starting lineup for the next league game away at Sydney FC on Sunday no harm whatsoever.
AWFUL NIGHT CAPS OFF A PROMISING YEAR FOR AVONDALE
It may seem hard to believe based on how lacklustre Avondale performed on the night, but Wellington were only the second outfit to defeat Avondale in 2021.
Only fellow NPL Victoria side Green Gully had triumphed over Avondale coming into the night, making this the Avengers’ first loss in over nine months.
After cruelly being denied the chance to claim league silverware despite being top at the time of suspension, whilst also claiming Victorian cup success nine days ago defeating Hume City in the Dockerty Cup final, 2021 ultimately proved to be a successful, but frustrating year for the club, setting up next year as one of potential promise both within the state and on the national stage.
Avondale 1 (Matthew Reid 75m)
Wellington Phoenix 4 (Jaushua Sotirio 5m, 15m, Ben Waine 24m, Luka Prso 81m)