Barely three weeks ago, Wellington Phoenix weren’t just winless but hopeless. Winning at Parramatta Stadium would have seemed a fanciful prospect.
Indeed, when the Phoenix trailed 1-0 after Mark Bridge’s flick, you could have picked up triple-figure odds on the visitors scoring three times in the next 20 minutes.
Now the Phoenix, instead of being doomed to a wooden-spoon battle with Melbourne Heart, are equal on points with seventh-placed Adelaide. Finals are back on their agenda.
This was a victory engineered in the dugout as much as on the pitch. Ernie Merrick, once derided for his blunt tactics at Melbourne Victory, had to work out a way to turn the match in his favour once they fell behind on the hour mark.
The introduction of Tyler Boyd – a 19-year-old forward without an A-League goal to his name – was a cunning masterstroke.
Boyd scored one, set up another and combined with Stein Huysegems to shred the seemingly impenetrable Wanderers rearguard.
It was the first time an away team has scored three goals at Parramatta Stadium, and the first time the Wanderers have been beaten on home soil all season.
They’ve now taken five points from the Wanderers in three games. That’s not to be sniffed at – nor is the fact that of the six goals scored by away teams at the venue in this campaign, the Kiwis have bagged four of them.
Some will be tempted to point the finger at Wanderers coach Tony Popovic for aggressively rotating his squad again. He made no fewer than six changes to the starting team that drew 1-1 at Melbourne Victory.
There’s merit to that point but the real truth is once they went ahead, they relaxed. All three goals came down the right-hand side as sloppy organisation opened holes.
While the sides were poles apart going into the match – second-top versus second-bottom – there didn’t appear much of a class gulf early. However, the Wanderers did squander a couple of good early chances as Bridge headed over and Aaron Mooy’s volley troubled Glen Moss but neither troubled the scorer.
The Wanderers looked at their best down the right, where the hard work of Jerome Polenz and Youssouf Hersi was rewarded by Shinjo Ono’s vision, continually exploiting Kenny Cunningham’s inferior work rate. At times, left-back Manny Muscat was having to mind two or more of them without support.
Ono very nearly scored on the brink of half-time when his well-timed header appeared goal-bound, only to strike the underside of the crossbar.
Luck aside, Wellington’s work through the middle was keeping them in the contest. Spaniard Albert Riera brought a rhythmic motion to holding midfield while Jason Hicks showed glimpses as a No.10 before being changed for Matthew Ridenton at half-time.
He was beaten to the bench by Louis Fenton, who dislocated his shoulder in what could be the third bad injury in a week for the Phoenix. In the 1-0 win over Melbourne Heart, Paul Ifill snapped his Achilles and Carlos Hernandez suffered a fractured wrist.
The bad news was made even worse as the Wanderers broke through to score the first of the evening. A delightful three-way move involving Hersi, Ono and Bridge ended with the latter being put through on goal.
Moss raced out to Bridge but the former Sydney forward was able to tap the ball over the keeper with the edge of his toe.
Merrick’s answer to falling behind was to turn to young Boyd in a decision that changed the match.
Most of the 14,151 fans were stunned as Huysegems wriggled his way to the byline before poking across goal to Boyd, who was in the right place to prod home.
But the Phoenix weren’t done yet, nor was their big Belgian. Sensing the game was up for grabs, he outmuscled Mooy and went one on one against Nikolai Topor-Stanley. Huysegems had feigned one way and then the other before placing a superb shot into the far corner.
By now the hosts were reeling and had lost their shape. The Phoenix had the audacity to chase a third, and who else but Boyd and Huysegems combined to put an exclamation mark on the biggest upset of the season.
WELLINGTON PHOENIX 3 (Tyler Boyd 68m, Stein Huysegems 78m, 83m) bt WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS 1 (Mark Bridge 62m) at Pirtek Stadium. Crowd: 14,151. Referee: Lucien Laverdue.
Ladder after start of round 13
|Western Sydney Wanderers||13||6||5||2||15||11||4||23|
|*Central Coast Mariners||12||5||4||3||12||14||-2||19|
* - denotes teams yet to play.