A superb headed goal from Ben Sigmund gave the Wellington Phoenix a 1-0 win over fellow A-League side Newcastle Jets in Weston on Saturday evening.
The Phoenix could easily have been two goals up before Sigmund headed home a Carlos Hernandez corner kick in the eighth minute and overall were full value for their win.
Head coach Ernie Merrick describes his squad as a work in progress and judging by their two games in Australia this week the signs are positive.
Again Merrick gave his young players a chance with all nine who are aged 20 or under getting a run.
Another positive for Phoenix and New Zealand fans is that seven of the nine are Kiwis.
As Merrick relaxed on the two-and-a-half hour bus journey back to Sydney he summed up what was a good night for the club without getting carried away.
“It was another very good performance and it was important that we went the 90 minutes and held on to the win,” he said.
“When you make four substitutions at one time (in the 60th minute) it can sometimes backfire but Alex (Rufer), Matt (Ridenton) and Hamish Watson, along with Jacob Spoonley in goal, showed determination to get the game won.
“It was also pleasing to get our two back up central defenders (Luke Adams and Michael Boxall) playing together in the second half.
“Luke had a positional problem in the first half but quickly fixed it in the second half which is to his credit.”
Merrick said Rufer showed his class up front again and that Justin Gulley was outstanding on the right hand side when he came on.
He also had praise for young German Tobias Bertsch who within minutes of taking his place in midfield had to switch to left back when Reece Caira was forced off with an ankle injury.
Watson caused problems for the Jets defence in his 30-minute cameo.
“Hamish has improved out of sight during his time with us,” Merrick said.
“Of the nine players 20 or under we have had Hamish is probably the most improved of all of them.”
It wasn’t just the youngsters that Merrick was enthusing about. Striker Stein Huysegems has played 90 minutes in each of the five pre-season games the team has had and is looking really fit.
Another pleasing factor for Merrick is that Hernandez is getting fitter all the time and starting to show his class, something that can only augur well for the season ahead.
“The midfield combination is coming together really well with Vinnie (Lia) and Manny (Muscat) winning the ball for Carlos to do his thing.
“Carlos had a major impact on the game and is going to keep improving.”
Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss (Jacob Spoonley 60m), Louis Fenton (Justin Gulley 45m), Luke Adams, Ben Sigmund (Michael Boxall 60m), Reece Caira (Matthew Ridenton 75m), Vince Lia, Matt Thompson (Manny Muscat 43m), Carlos Hernandez (Tobias Bertsch 60m), Joel Stevens, Paul Ifill (Hamish Watson 60m), Stein Huysegems.