Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay is cautiously optimistic his A-League team have turned a corner after a strong showing in a 2-2 draw with form team Western Sydney Wanderers.
Talay brought four fresh faces into the starting side at WIN Stadium on Sunday, making several surprising omissions – headed by the dropping of first-choice goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic – in an attempt to get back to winning ways.
For long periods they seemed the more likely victor after Mirza Muratovic gave them an early lead and only the width of the post denied Rene Piscopo doubling the advantage at their temporary Wollongong home.
“The boys will take a lot of confidence from this game,” Talay said.
“Players have been given opportunities and they have had the chance to step up, and that is sometimes when footballers are born.
“The players that came in today did a good job.
“Tactically, we set up well (but) we could have executed better at times.”
The Phoenix went into the match suffering a heavy injury load, notably with key defender Luke DeVere confirmed to miss up to three months after suffering a knee injury last weekend.
One of the new starters, fullback Louis Fenton, ensured the points would be shared thanks to his equaliser 11 minutes from fulltime after Kwame Yeboah and Bruce Kamau had scored in quick succession for the visitors.
Talay was reluctant to be drawn on the shock omission of Marinovic, the long-standing club and New Zealand national team goalkeeper, saying it was a “tactical decision”.
“Stef had a great season last season, but that was last season, but now he has to put his head down and work hard and try to fight for a spot,” Talay said.
The point saw the Phoenix lift themselves clear of fellow bottom side Melbourne Victory who they meet in a crucial match on Wednesday.
The draw meant the Wanderers stretched their unbeaten run to seven matches – the longest current streak in the competition.
“They (my players) should be proud of the way they played in the second half especially,” said Wanderers coach Carl Robinson.
“We didn’t execute in the final third, but the second half was exceptional.”
But while Robinson was pleased with the second-half comeback, he said draws – this was their fourth in eight matches – could become problematic.
“I don’t like draws – there is the old adage that you are better off winning and losing rather than two draws, because you earn one more point.
“We threw away two points today. We need to learn how to win games.”