24 Jul 2014

Phoenix shock Hammers

5:15 am on 24 July 2014

The Wellington Phoenix footballers have upstaged their English Premier League guests West Ham United with a shock 2-1 win at Eden Park in Auckland on Wednesday night.

Alex Gorrin and his Phoenix team-mates celebrate their second goal against West Ham

Alex Gorrin and his Phoenix team-mates celebrate their second goal against West Ham Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The result's even more surprising, coming after Tuesday night's first game in the Football United tour, when the other Premier League visitors, Newcastle United, thrashed fellow A-Leaguers Sydney FC 4-0 in Dunedin.

But the Phoenix were good value for the victory, defying the gulf in class and cash with West Ham.

Phoenix captain Andrew Durante headed home the opener at the near post 12 minutes in, off a free kick delivered by new Spanish signing Alex Gorrin from near the corner.

Then Alex Rodriguez smashed home his own goal on 26 minutes after an elusive run from midfield.

Alex Rodriguez scores for Wellington Phoenix.

Alex Rodriguez scores for Wellington Phoenix. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

New Hammers signing Mauro Zarate looked dangerous from when he was introduced on the hour mark, and sure enough the Argentinian made it 2-1 with a lovely finish with less than 20 minutes to go.

But that was the end of the scoring.

West Ham had more than enough chances to at least draw and even win the match, but the Phoenix's All Whites goalkeeper Glen Moss, and his replacement with less than 10 to go, Lewis Italiano, both made crucial saves - the Australian's in the 94th and final minute, a beautiful finger-tip stop to push a certain equaliser around the post from England's Stewart Downing.

Their opposite Jussi Jaaskelainen, on the other hand, probably only made a couple of decent saves - aside from the two strikes that he had to pick out of the net in the first half.

Durante says they weren't over-awed by facing Premier League opposition, and that was largely thanks to the coach Ernie Merrick keeping everyone's feet firmly on the ground, telling the team to just enjoy themselves and not to go into their shell.

Phoenix fans at Eden Park

Phoenix fans at Eden Park Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Durante says they have a style of play, possession-based and passing, and they stuck to that. Merrick told them not to worry if they made mistakes as long as they keep playing the way they want to play.

He says they defended solidly, and West Ham had more chances but just couldn't finish, while the Phoenix took theirs.

Durante and the Phoenix now head home to Wellington for Saturday's double-header, with the Nix playing Newcastle, and West Ham facing Sydney.