Phoenix belt Roar for best-ever start to ALM season

Jasper Bruce |

A hat-trick to Oskar Zawada has sealed Wellington Phoenix’s 5-2 defeat of Brisbane Roar and confirmed the side’s best-ever start to an A-League Men season.

Under rookie coach Giancarlo Italiano, Wellington are 2-1-0 to begin 2023/24 after an attack-focused – and at times chaotic – affair at home on Saturday.

After scoring inside 32 seconds, the Roar were left to rue some sloppy defence and a five-minute period during which Wellington turned a 2-2 deadlock into a 4-2 lead in the second half.

Wellington Phoenix's Bozhidar Kraev (centre)
Wellington Phoenix’s Bozhidar Kraev (centre) scores during the A-League game against Brisbane Roar.

For the first goal of that skirmish, Tim Payne set Bulgarian Bozhidar Kraev on a break down the right wing that caught the Roar unawares, before Zawada headed a cross home and swelled the scoreline.

In stoppage time, Nicholas Pennington found Zawada in the area for his third goal, which confirmed a big win.

“(Zawada) suffered a bit of an injury two days ago at training, so he was doubtful, he had problems with his back,” Italiano said.

“For me the fact that he carried on (was pleasing).

“I’m happy that we scored five goals, (but) I’m probably more happy that we came back from a goal deficit after the first minute.

“The boys really rallied together and showed a lot of character.”

Wellington Phoenix players and supporters
Wellington Phoenix players and fans celebrate one of the five goals against the Brisbane Roar.

The Phoenix have never finished the first three rounds of the season with more than the seven points they have now. Last season it took them seven rounds to accrue as many.

“Stop the race, that’s what I say,” Italiano joked.

Brisbane are 1-1-1 to start the tenure of their own rookie boss, Ross Aloisi.

“We didn’t deserve to win,” Aloisi said.

“It just disappoints me. Certain players played with fear. I don’t understand. If you play with fear and you lose, or you play with courage and you lose, you still lose.

“At least play with courage, that’s the way I want to play.”

The Roar enjoyed the better start. French recruit Florin Berenguer made good on their first foray into enemy territory, chipping the ball past two defenders and goalkeeper Alex Paulsen while fans were still taking their seats.

But the goal after 32 seconds seemed to shock the Phoenix into action and Payne, usually a defender but playing in the midfield, was an unlikely equaliser midway through the half.

He bamboozled Kai Trewin on the left edge of the box and shot into the far side of the net for his first goal in 93 ALM games.

Eight minutes later, Roar defender Tom Aldred came up with a coach-killer when he tried to kick the ball back to goalkeeper Macklin Freke while he was under pressure on the left wing.

The ball went straight to Zawada, who gave the Phoenix their first lead after a one-on-one with the goalie.

Zawada continued to threaten, but it was Brisbane’s Nikola Mileusnic who had the next goal after his shot from close range deflected from Phoenix defender Lukas Kelly-Heald and into the net.