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Wellington Phoenix ground out a vital 1-0 win over Newcastle Jets to move into the top six Hyundai A-League playoff places at Westpac Stadium on Sunday night.
It wasn’t the free-flowing, attacking Phoenix that the fans have become accustomed to at home over the past few weeks, but everyone – players, coaching staff and fans – went home happy the three points had been secured.
The goal that won the game, by Dylan Macallister in the 20th minute, was out of character with the rest of the match, coming from an eye-catching run by Marco Rojas down the right flank, a lovely low cross and a superb first time finish by Macallister.
There were other moments to admire, but overall it was a battling, performance from a team that was showing obvious signs of tiredness after the midweek trip to the Gold Coast following the win over Perth seven days earlier.
Coach Ricki Herbert said people don’t seem to appreciate just how much the travel and midweek games takes out of the players.
“We all have to play midweek games, but I sit at home watching other matches and listen to the commentators saying how tough a team has had it through playing midweek.
“I never hear them mention the Phoenix and we do a lot more traveling than anyone else. We haven’t used it as an excuse for our poor away form because if you want to play in the league you just get on with it, but there were some pretty tired boys out there tonight.”
Captain Andrew Durante echoed his coach’s feelings and admitted it wasn’t a pretty performance.
“Playing Sunday, traveling the next day and playing a team in red-hot form, in very warm, difficult conditions took a lot out of us and it showed today.
“We weren’t our usual selves here tonight and were sloppy at times, but it speaks volumes for the character of the boys that we were able to battle and get the three points.”
The Phoenix started well, but clear cut chances were few and far between till Rojas went on his marauding run down the right to set up Macallister for the game’s only goal.
Later in the half Rojas repeated the move but that time Macallister couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet while trying to shoot from close range.
Leading 1-0 at halftime, the Phoenix found it hard to get going after the interval, but once they did a number of chances came their way that they were unable to capitalize on.
The Jets got more into the game in the second spell and were only denied an equalizer by a brilliant one-handed save from Danny Vukovic low down to his right.
There was another scare for the home side when the Jets hit an upright, but once they weathered that period of pressure they again began to control the play.
The Jets cause was made more difficult in the 66th minutes when striker Ryan Griffiths was shown a straight red card by referee Chris Beath for “offensive, insulting and abusive language”.
The Phoenix players didn’t escape the attention of Beath either with Durante, Troy Hearfield, Vince Lia, Ben Sigmund and Manny Muscat all being yellow carded for “reckless tackles”.
Sigmund’s caution was expensive, being his eighth of the season and bringing a two-game suspension. He will miss the away games against Adelaide United and Sydney FC.