December 10, 2023

‘Never in doubt’: Unbeaten Phoenix top A-League table early with dramatic home win over Perth

Wellington Phoenix defeat Perth Glory to go top of the A-League table.

Wellington Phoenix sit atop the A-League table, after winning their home opener Perth Glory 2-1 to remain unbeaten early in the season.

The team from the capital drew their season opener last week, but went one better at Sky Stadium, making new coach Giancarlo Italiano the third Phoenix coach to win his home debut in charge.

Goals to Oskar Zawada and Bozhidar Kraev laid the foundations for the result, but goalkeeper Alex Paulsen – the hero of the deadlock against Western Sydney Wanderers – was called on to save a late penalty to preserve the lead.

“Never in doubt really,” joked Italiano. “I don’t know what all the excitement is about.

“It was a great game. I’m very happy for the boys, I thought they put in an unbelievable shift.

“For us in the context of the season, we don’t know how important that save is, but for now, it’s immense, because it’s the difference between us being on two points and four points.”

Pole Zawada opened the scoring in the ninth minute, when he intercepted a pass from former Phoenix teammate Oli Sail off his line and chipped the All Whites keeper from outside the penalty box.

Glory captain Mark Beevers headed home a free-kick to level the scores, but Bulgarian Bozhidar Kraev restored the home advantage, after Kosta Barbarouses and Zawada combined to provide an opportunity he took full toll of.

With time almost up, Lukas Kelly-Heald was ajudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area, but Paulsen responded with a diving save of Adam Taggart penalty attempt to secured victory.

“I think penalty saving comes down to confidence and being a confidence keeper,” said Italiano. “Once you make one or two penalty saves, then you have the belief you can save any penalty.

“AP has got that confidence. He’s got that little bit of cockiness and it puts off the player taking the penalty, because he has that at the back of his mind that he actually has to hit it really well to capitalise.”

The Phoenix join Melbourne Roar atop the standings with four points from two fixtures, with the Roar due to visit Wellington next Saturday.

Wellington Phoenix 2 (Zawada & Kraev) Perth Glory 1 (Beevers)

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