Wellington Phoenix book their place in the FFA Cup round of sixteen in a gritty display against an inexperienced Western United side, with a sole Ben Waine header enough to clinch the win for the New Zealand side.
A young Western United side came out looking hungry, dominating proceedings from the offset. Christian Theorharous was a persistent thorn in the Phoenix’s side in the early stages, his cross finding Dylan Pierias in the sixth minute, who forced a close-range save from Oliver Sail.
However, it was the away side that broke the deadlock against the run of play in the 35th minute. In a rare foray into Western territory, right-back Louis Fenton put in a delightful cross for Ben Waine, who steered a towering header into the bottom left corner.
John Aloisi’s men enjoyed the vast majority of possession and made consistent strides into Wellington’s penalty box, only to find themselves frustrated by the New Zealand outfit.
Ben Waine found himself with an opportunity to bag his second of the match in the 53rd minute, taking down a ball over the top with a sumptuous first touch, only to be denied at point-blank range by Western goalkeeper Ryan Scott.
While the Green and Black slowly regained their footing in the match, they seriously struggled for creativity, looking bereft of ideas without Italian maestro Alessandro Diamanti.
The most likely outlet for the home side looked to be the young Nicholas Milanovic, who saw a left-footed effort palmed wide brilliantly by Sail via a deflection in the 75th minute.
THE WAINE TRAIN CHUGS ON
With their backs to the wall from very early on, it was looking like the Wellington Phoenix would need a moment of inspiration to come from somewhere if they were going to get out with a positive result against one of the form teams in Australian football.
Despite being severely starved of the ball, all it took was one moment for the game to take on a completely different shape when Ben Waine headed the Phoenix into an unexpected lead.
With the Kiwi banging in seven goals in 22 league games last season at an incredible 19 years of age, its not hard to imagine that his first strike of the season will be one of many more to come.
Whatever hardships the club may be dealing with regarding international COVID travel restrictions and finding a home away from home, the Phoenix supporters who showed up on the night will surely be ecstatic to see the Waine Train back in motion.
ALOISI’S YOUNG GUNS CRACK UNDER PRESSURE
Western United named an entirely rotated starting eleven from the side that shocked champions Melbourne City over the weekend, with John Aloisi looking to his bench and youth options to take the game to the Phoenix.
Standing out from the line-up of youngsters featured for this cup tie were veteran Nicolai Topor-Stanley and Dylan Pierias, who has featured largely as a substitute in the league this season.
While this Western side certainly started the match as the brighter of the two teams, they struggled to create clear-cut chances, limited to shots around the edge of Wellington’s penalty box throughout the match.
While the likes of Christian Theoharous and Nicholas Milanovic looked tidy in combination and posed problems at various stages throughout the match, the home side lacked a quality striking option to aim their crosses towards, with Aleksandar Prijović out with hamstring soreness and Dylan Wenzel-Halls rested after his performance over the weekend.
Other bright spots in an otherwise disappointing defeat included Jerry Skotadis and Luke Duzel as a double pivot in midfield. The pair shuttled the ball up and down the pitch efficiently and looked comfortable in possession, but their hard work would often come to nothing as Western were unable to find the final ball.
A GAME OF TWO HALVES
The Wellington Phoenix started the match surprisingly timidly, given the gap in age experience and pedigree between the two squads.
The away side found themselves soaking up substantial pressure for the majority of the first half, rarely progressing past the halfway line before Western regained the ball.
After half-time, the more experienced side regained their composure as the Phoenix went through the gears, looking to assert control over the match.
Despite a late surge of pressure from the home side, the New Zealand-based outfit held firm to keep a clean sheet and book their place in the Round of 16 against would-be NPL Victoria champions Avondale FC.
Save for a brief slip and scare in the first 20 minutes, Oliver Sail was calm and reliable when called upon in the Wellington goal, denying a number of shots from Theoharous and Milanovic throughout the match. This match should prove to be a big boost to his confidence after conceding two against a stubborn Western Sydney Wanderers side last Friday.
FFA Cup: Round of 32, GMHBA Stadium
Western United 0
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Waine 35m)
Image Source: FFA Cup