Something appears to be building for the Wellington Phoenix.
No one will get too carried away – especially with less than a third of the season gone – but their 2-0 win on Saturday night over the Central Coast Mariners continued their recent upward swing.
It was a significant result too, marking the first time the Phoenix have enjoyed back to back victories in the A League since April 2017.
The result was never really in doubt, with Louis Fenton’s early goal cancelling out any nerves, before Sarpreet Singh extended the Phoenix advantage on the stroke of halftime.
Coming on the back of last week’s impressive result over Sydney FC, the Phoenix now have a decent foundation heading into the Christmas period.
They’ll be in a position to joust for a top six spot, and will be confident heading into another winnable game against Brisbane next weekend.
The Phoenix were favourites last night, but still had to get the job done. That was the impressive part; they dealt with the inevitable expectation against the lowly Mariners, and never really let them into the match. They were clinical when it mattered, defended stoutly and worked hard off the ball.
And the Phoenix never relaxed, never took the result for granted.
They also continue to improve their work in possession, which is significantly better than in the opening weeks of their campaign.
Meanwhile the Mariners season is turning sour, even at this early stage.
How bad does the Usain Bolt experiment look now? Though it was a fantastic marketing and PR exercise, how much did that sideshow affect the Mariners pre-season preparations?
No one will ever know, but the New South Wales team have now recorded the worst start after eight games in A League history and look down on confidence and disjointed.
They created some early chances last night, but Fenton’s goal sapped their belief and the Phoenix controlled the match from there.
Michael McGlinchey had an unhappy return to Wellington, struggling to have much influence on the match.
His counterpart Mandi was the standout, pulling the strings for the Phoenix in midfield and at the centre of many positive moments for the home side.
The Spaniard already looks a good buy, and his combination with Alex Rufer is an encouraging one.
After Jordan Murray had a couple of early opportunities for the visitors, Fenton gave the Phoenix momentum.
Mariner’s keeper Adam Pearce could only parry a strong 25 metre drive from Mandi, and the right wing back was on hand to bundle in the rebound.
A Steven Taylor strike was later rubbed out for offside, before the Phoenix doubled their advantage in the 45th minute.
A poor clearing kick by Pearce fell straight to left wing back Liberato Cacace, whose cross slipped through to Roy Krishna. The Fijian showed good control – and even better vision – to elude his marker then slide a square pass to Singh, who calmly wrong footed the keeper for his 5th goal in his 20th A League game.
The Mariners never really looked like coming back from there, and any chances were invariably spoilt by a poor final delivery, especially from set piece.
The Phoenix were a constant counter attacking threat in the second half, but were mostly content to manage the game to its inevitable conclusion and eased their way to their third victory of the season.