Williams strike and Kurto heroics lead Phoenix to tense win over Melbourne City
David Williams’ early strike proved decisive as Filip Kurto's heroics inspired Wellington Phoenix to hold off a spirited fightback by Melbourne City.
After Phoenix’s record-breaking nine-match undefeated streak was halted by Sydney FC in midweek, following Roy Krishna’s late penalty miss, it would be understandable if Mark Rudan’s men took a knock to their confidence.
But Wellington came out all guns blazing at Westpac Stadium, making the breakthrough when the constantly dangerous trio of Krishna, Liberato Cacace and Williams combined to seize the advantage in five minutes. From that point until half-time, the Nix never looked back.
But the game flipped on its head after the interval and Phoenix relied on goalkeeper Kurto to make a string of outstanding saves to frustrate an increasingly dangerous City side and seal all three points.
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Rudan could not have dreamed of a better start from his team. City’s usually reliable backline were stretched out of position by a smart Krishna run and, after the ball got fed out to Cacace on the left, Williams added a composed finish against his former club.
The warning signs for City continued on 11 minutes when Cacace wriggled free of stand-in right back Nathaniel Aktinson and the teenager’s cross floated over the head of Eugene Galekovic and just wide of the post.
It was the beginning of a fierce content between the pair, with Cacace getting the better of his positional rival again when the swashbuckling New Zealander picked out Williams. It would have been a carbon copy of the opening goal but this time Williams slammed the shot over.
Tom Doyle’s looping header was clawed away by Galekovic as City desperately tried to contain the rampaging Nix. A rare attack by Warren Joyce’s men was quickly sniffed out by Andrew Durante, who sprung a counter on the half hour that ripped open the City backline but Louis Fenton could not find a wide-open Sarpreet Singh.
City’s only other chances in the first half arrived from set pieces that were easily dealt with by Wellington, as Alex Rufer’s long-range strike was beaten away by Galekovic. Krishna combined superbly with Williams but was denied by Harrison Delbridge’s block before the Fijian stung Galekovic’s hands once again.
The barrage continued in the first 15 minutes after the break, before suddenly the tide turned. City found their groove after Riley McGree sprinted through on goal from the half-way line. Durante made the saving tackle but the visitors were lifted.
Ritchie de Laet slammed a shot on the turn into the side-netting on 58 minutes and Kurto came up big four minutes later to deny Lachlan Wales from close range as City recorded their first shot on goal.
With the game swinging in City’s favour, McGree found some space and rifled a strike over the crossbar and Kurto came to the rescue once again when he thwarted Kearyn Baccus from 10 yards on 74 minutes.
City’s comeback was not helped when de Laet hobbled off on 78 minutes but substitute Moudi Najjar saw a golden chance to level go begging when Kurto made the block, and Kurto was the savior again when he parried away Scott Jamieson with the clock ticking down.
It was roll reversal from the first half as the game drew to a close, with Phoenix having not recorded a shot on goal in the second stanza and their defence desperately scrambling to clear their lines. Singh almost sealed the victory in the closing seconds but it is Kurto who will be taking the plaudits to ensuring all three points go to Wellington.