More pain for Mariners across the ditch
WELLINGTON'S target of a perfect January is under way with a 2-1 A-League win over Central Coast, built on goals to their English strikers Gary Hooper and David Ball.
The Phoenix extended their unbeaten run to eight games with a workmanlike display at Sky Stadium on Saturday, consigning the 10th-placed Mariners to their fourth loss in five matches.
All of the goals came in the first half via Phoenix players. Seasoned pair Hooper and Ball put the hosts two goals up inside half an hour before Wellington defender Luke DeVere's own goal on the stroke of the break gave Central Coast a look-in.
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The three points further cements Wellington's place in the top six. The Kiwi side will finish the round in fourth or fifth place and hoping to capitalise on a friendly schedule in January.
Coach Ufuk Talay has publicly challenged his players to win four from four games - all against teams ranked in the bottom half.
The cause is helped by the improved fitness of former Celtic striker Hooper, who made his seventh appearance but just his second start this season.
The 31-year-old's only other start was two months ago against Melbourne City - when he scored his other goal for the club but suffered a groin strain, reducing him to short bench appearances since.
Hooper looked short of game time and was eclipsed for impact by Ball, who was a constant menace until he hobbled off with an apparent hip injury soon after the break.
Mariners coach Alen Stajcic surprisingly omitted Milan Djuric completely for the first time this season, indicating before kick off the Serbian attacking midfielder was in need of a rest four days after their 3-0 loss to Perth. Hooper's tap-in goal, his second for the Phoenix came via some strong build-up work from Ball and a Tim Payne assist in the 13th minute.
Ball's goal was more spectacular, cutting inside two defenders before curling a low shot inside the far post from a difficult angle.
Ball went close twice before a big finish to the first half from the Mariners, who benefited from an unfortunate DeVere flick header off Jack Clisby's cross. Chances dried up for both teams in the second half, with Talay content to replace both his English front men in a bid to defend the lead. The tactic nearly backfired as Jordan Murray and Daniel De Silva spurned late chances.
The result capped an excellent week for the Phoenix, who extended the contracts of four players, including captain Steven Taylor.
WELLINGTON PHOENIX 2 (Gary Hooper 13m, David Ball 29m) CENTRAL COAST MARINERS 1 (Luke DeVere 45+1m og) at Sky Stadium. Referee: Jonathon Barreiro