Phoenix record in sight as Ball shines in win over Mariners before injury exit
Samuel Green, Michael Flynn
Jan 4, 2020
David Ball starred before limping off as Wellington Phoenix reached the brink of a club record undefeated streak following a 2-1 win against Central Coast Mariners.
The English striker opened up the visitors’ defence as compatriot Gary Hooper stroked Ufuk Talay’s team ahead on 13 minutes and Ball turned goalscorer after some silky footwork on 29 minutes at Sky Stadium.
Luke De Vere’s own goal on the cusp of half-time brought the Mariners hope and the inspirational Ball instantly called for a 52nd-minute substitution after suffering a hip injury.
Hooper made it through 62 minutes on his second start for the club before Central Coast ensured Wellington suffered a nervous finish to get over the line as Danny De Silva and substitute Sammy Silvera threatened late on.
Wellington weathered the storm to close out their fifth win in seven games and make it eighth matches unbeaten, with Talay’s side now one game short of a club record unbeaten run.
The nine-match streak set last season is the only time in their history Wellington have gone undefeated for longer, as Phoenix rise to fourth in the ladder, overtaking Western United and pulling level with third-placed Perth Glory on 18 points.
The Mariners had only a four-day turnaround from their New Year’s Eve defeat against Perth Glory, but Stajcic’s side showed no signs of a hangover when Giancarlo Gallifuoco drilled a 25-yard effort off the top of Wellington’s crossbar in the second minute.
Phoenix showed their clinical edge when Ball’s smart footwork on 13 minutes allowed Tim Payne to break free on the overlap and the Nix right-back sent in a low cross that left Hooper with a simple tap-in to open his Sky Stadium account.
Callum McCowatt found space at the back post but his free header failed to trouble Mark Birighitti on 21 minutes but Ball made his chance count eight minutes later after leaving two defenders on their knees with some nifty footwork, and curling a left-footed shot beyond the Mariners goalkeeper.
The English striker was having a field day, as his 20-yard rifled drive forced Birighitti into a one-handed save, before he flicked Ulises Davila’s low cross a fraction wide of the Mariners near post. But, after Oar’s long-range shot cannoned back off the woodwork, De Vere handed the Mariners a lifeline when he headed Jack Clisby’s delivery into his own net in first-half stoppage time.
Phoenix reclaimed their control in the second half, but plans changed when Ball went down holding his hip and was replaced by Jaushua Sotirio seven minutes after the restart and Brazilian forward Jair threatened with a 62nd-minute header to give Phoenix a fright as the game began to open up.
Davila and Cacace worked Birighitti on the counter, while Stefan Marinovic kept Phoenix in front with a fine save to deny substitute Jordan Murray. The best chance of the half fell to De Silva on 82 minutes but the opportunity flashed before the visitors’ eyes, while Silvera also skewed a late chance wide as the Mariners came up short.
It was a red-hot start for the Mariners and they very nearly took the lead in just the third minute of the contest.
Teed up just outside the penalty area, Giancarlo Gallifuoco let fly with a ferocious first-time strike that proved too good for Stefan Marinovic but ricocheted off the frame of the goal.
Eager to make an impact after being elevated to the starting line-up, Gary Hooper didn't waste any time delivering the Phoenix the lead inside the opening quarter hour.
On the back of a full-field passing passage, David Ball played the run of Tim Payne on the right in behind the Mariners’ line before the All White put it on a platter for Hooper to tuck away at close range.
The goal is his second for the Kiwi club and his first at their home digs.
The Phoenix were looking the more dangerous side and come the 29th minute they doubled their advantage through the wiles of Ball.
With seemingly nowhere to go in a crowded penalty box, the Englishman shook a pair of Mariners defenders before unleashing a low, curling strike into the bottom corner for his second goal in as many games for the Phoenix.
Deep into injury time and the Mariners – who hit the post just minutes earlier through Tommy Oar – finally found a reward, albeit with a little help from the Phoenix defence.
Jack Clisby delivered a dangerous cross from a corner variation that skimmed off the top off the head of Luke De Vere to catch out Marinovic and nestle in the back of the net.
Despite finding themselves behind on the scoreboard the balance shifted in the second stanza as Alen Stajcic rang the changes and the Mariners began to shade the chances.
Substitute Jordan Murray was well positioned to deliver a leveler for the visitors on the back of his classy chest-then-volley, however was foiled by the sharp reactions of Marinovic in the Phoenix goal.