Costa Rican international Kenny Cunningham marked his debut with what head coach Ernie Merrick, tongue-in-cheek, described as a wonder goal as Wellington Phoenix beat Sydney FC 3-0 in a pre-season game at Winter Field on Saturday.
Cunningham’s 37th minute strike, from wide out on the right, rifled into the top right-hand corner of the net to set his team on the way to victory.
“It was something of a wonder goal from Kenny,” Merrick said with a smile.
“He’s claiming it, but I think it was more of a cross than a 40-metre shot into the top corner from an impossible angle!”
The goal gave the Phoenix just the boost they needed after a difficult opening 15 minutes when they were put under pressure by an eager Sydney side, along with the blow of losing midfield dynamo Vince Lia in the 32nd minute with a cheekbone injury that needed six stitches.
Leading 1-0 at the break, the Phoenix were the better side in the second spell and goalkeeper Tamati Williams, who took over from another trialist – James McPeake – at halftime, had little to do, though when he was called into action he dealt with it well.
In the 75th minute Hamish Watson, who had replaced Cunningham 10 minutes earlier, scored a gem of a goal from 22 metres to make it 2-0.
A minute later it was 3-0 when Paul Ifill rounded the goalkeeper and slipped the ball into the net.
Merrick was pleased with his team’s performance but warned against getting carried away.
“We’ve played six games, three against A-League teams and lost only one and that was through two goals in the last five minutes,” he said.
“It shows we are heading in the right direction but can’t get carried away as Sydney put on some trialists in the second half.
“The main thing is it shows we are heading in the right direction and the quality of our play was first class.
“Sydney caught us out in the opening 15 minutes with a very attacking formation and when they came at us our midfield and defence took the easy way out by stepping back.
“But once we sorted out the midfield and our defence stepped up we got on the front foot and played more in their half.”
Lia was replaced in midfield by Tobias Bertsch. The young German grabbed the opportunity with both hands with Merrick saying he had an outstanding game.
“It was one of those games where everyone contributed,” he said.
“Reece Caira has become a very reliable defensive left back and he also gives us an attacking force. He is covering more distance in games than everyone but Vince Lia.
“I thought for most of the first half the front four of Kenny, Paul, Carlos and Stein combined well.
“I took Stein and Kenny off in the 65th minute because I wanted Paul (Ifill) to play a full game and I also wanted to have a look at Hamish Watson and Alex Rufer.
“Paul showed his level of fitness is good by taking the ball round the keeper late in the game.”
Wellington Phoenix: James McPeake (Tamati Williams 45m), Louis Fenton (Josh Brindell-South 70m), Michael Boxall, Luke Adams, Reece Caira, Vince Lia (Tobias Bertsch 37m), Manny Muscat (Justin Gulley 60m), Carlos Hernandez (Alex Rufer 60m), Kenny Cunningham (Hamish Watson 60m), Stein Huysegems, Paul Ifill.