Phoenix make it 24 in a row in Wellington

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Wellington Phoenix have beaten the North Queensland Fury and the windy conditions at Westpac Stadium to pull themselves up to third place, at least temporarily.

The pre-match graphics suggested a dreadful Wellington night was serving up winds of 35km/h, gusting to 65km/h, but judging by the difficulties keeping the ball on the spot for the kick it may well have been more.

The Phoenix started the game with the swirling wind predominantly behind them and with a minute and a half gone it became clear the conditions might just have a rather large say in the game. The Phoenix rushed forward and Nick Ward’s right foot drifted in a cross from the left hand side. It looked to be a comfortable claim for Fury keeper Pasfield, with no real pressure from the Phoenix strikers, but the wind caught it and at the last minute he was forced to claw it away for a corner, his misjudgement nearly ending up with the ball in the back of the net. To underline the effect of the wind, Daniel’s resulting corner blew straight out.

Pasfield had been warned but the conditions were about to have their largest say in the game. The Fury keeper looked to knock a long ball from the edge of his box when a gust caught the ball and moved it ever so slightly. Pasfield scuffed the ground and, with what little connection with the football his foot did make, scooped the ball straight to Chris Greenacre. The ever industrious striker normally has to work much harder for his chances but he happily took it around the despairing Justin Pasfield to put the Phoenix ahead with just over two minutes gone.

Both sides were struggling to string more than two passes together in the conditions with a lot of ball being cut out in the midfield, but in the 12th minute the Phoenix thought they had another. Greenacre pounced on a possibly unintentional Fury header back to Pasfield and lifted it over the sprawling keeper’s legs into the net. He might have thought the ball off the Fury head had played him on, but replays showed Greenacre was in front of the last Fury man from the original ball in.

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The Nix wouldn’t be denied long. A minute later some dreadful defending saw them go two up. Fury centre back Eric Akoto won the ball in the box but tried to play himself out of trouble. His second touch saw the ball caught under his feet and Bertos grabbed himself the reward for pressing. He nicked the ball from the hapless Akoto and drove it into the far bottom corner. 2-0 Nix and the Fury must have felt they were almost out of the game before it had got going.

Fury captain Ufuk Talay might have been feeling some of that frustration during an ugly incident soon after the goal. He appeared to intentionally elbow Greenacre in the side of the head as he ran past the English striker. Greenacre required treatment but was able to continue without problem. Talay was unpunished but it may be one for the video committee.

The two sides traded half chances with the Phoenix having the better of them. Ben Sigmund was putting himself about in his best performance to date in an unfamiliar fullback position, even grabbing himself a dipping strike on the volley after good interplay with Bertos. Nick Ward, too, was finding far too much space in front of the Fury back four and Fury centre back Mark Hughes had to be at his best to head clear one of his teasing crosses to the edge of the six yard box with Greenacre lurking.

The last five minutes of the half seemed a cue for the Phoenix to try grab another with the wind and they bombarded Pasfield’s goal. Muscat skewed a shot on his left straight to Ward who would have been one on one but he stood on the ball as he stretched for it. Bertos got himself into dangerous positions twice more before the end of the half, but his crosses were unable to find Phoenix shirts.

The Fury would have been kicking themselves at half time for gifting two goals, but the Phoenix were good value for their lead. The Fury had barely threatened.

That changed within two minutes of the restart. Muscat lost his man and a ball drilled across the box was met by Osama Malik who must have thought he’d scored as the ball raced towards the top right corner. Vukovic stuck out a left glove and made a superb reflex save. He then claimed the corner confidently and released Bertos over half way. Fantastic goalkeeping.

The Phoenix are a big side, tough and good in the air. As the second half went on it looked like they would be happy to battle it out. Durante and North were no nonsense at the back and the conditions were made for Brown and Lia who battled for scraps in the middle of the park.

All that changed in the 65th minute as a reckless challenge for a man already on a yellow saw Vinnie Lia sent off. He got mostly ball but was caught stabbing at the ball studs up and can probably have no complaints these days.

To make matters worse for the Nix, Mark Hughes stepped up and smashed the ball through the wall. The ball looped over a stranded Vukovic, who could do nothing, and the Fury were well in truly back in it.

There were still at least 25 minutes to go and the Fury looked hopeful of a result for the first time since kick off. Down to ten, the Phoenix were struggling to hold onto the ball, although Greenacre continued to battle up front along manfully.

With ten minutes to go Sigmund was a forced withdrawl with a hamstring problem and Troy Hearfield slotted into right back. Not a change likely to inspire confidence in the Fever Zone, and the Fury were still pressing.

With a minute to go they could have got their reward. Durante made a rare mistake and invited pressure with his missed control. The Nix were unable to completely clear it and in the second phase of play Spagnuolo found himself played into space on the left side of the box behind the scrambling Phoenix back four. His curling left foot shot didn’t quite come down enough to find the top right corner with Vukovic beaten. For a moment it looked in and Fury boss Frantisek Straka was left disbelieving as the Fury’s best chance at the death went begging.

A relieved Wellington survived extra time and they had their three points.

Phoenix verdict:
The Nix were gifted two goals and looked like they would comfortably see out the game before a reckless challenge by Lia put them under pressure. Greenacre battled away for 90 minutes and deserved his goal, Ward used the space he was given well, and Bertos was much improved.

Fury verdict:
Struggled with the conditions, particularly in the first half. Pasfield and Akoto won’t enjoy the video analysis of the game, and it was their two errors that killed the Fury for most of the game. Lia’s red card and Hughes’ deflected goal gave them hope, but a combination of the conditions, Wellington’s home record and a lack of a real threat up front meant the Nix were always likely to grind it out. Spagnuolo could have nicked a point at the end.

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