Chiefy’s masterstroke turns match on its head as high-flying Phoenix answer Mariners challenge

Catch the highlights as Wellington Phoenix hosted Adelaide United in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Giancarlo ‘Chiefy’ Italiano has a growing reputation for his tactical nous and it was on full display in Wellington Phoenix’s 3-2 victory over Adelaide United in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

With the score deadlocked at 1-1 and the high-flying Phoenix in need of a spark, Wellington head coach Italiano turned to his bench with a quadruple substitution in the 68th minute on Sunday.

It was a stroke of genius as Oskar van Hattum found the back of the net within 44 seconds of his introduction – his first A-Leagues goal after Luka Jovanovic had cancelled out Ben Old’s 34th-minute opener.

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Old put the result beyond doubt with a powerful half-volley in the 78th minute to ensure Wellington – riding a 10-match undefeated streak – restored their three-point buffer atop the standings following Central Coast Mariners’ F3 Derby success on Saturday.

Adelaide, who reduced the deficit in stoppage time, are 10th in the standings amid a six-game winless run.

“Well I thought we were pretty average in the first half. I think it was a combination of the fact they changed a bit on their press and we didn’t adjust well,” Italiano told Sky Sport New Zealand post-game when asked about the quadruple change.

“I think the big thing as well, throwing on Youstin (Salas) in the starting team is a different dynamic and expecting him to understand how we play. It’s a hard thing. It’s taken a lot of these boys a full season.

“I just felt at half-time, I tried to change it. It kind of worked. Then I went with my gut more than anything.

“Maybe it was how it was meant to be when Rufer gave the penalty away. Maybe it needed that. I was going to throw on Hughesy to go to a five because if they were going to bring on (Nestory) Irankunda, I was a little bit worried about getting stretched.

“I felt as though they were going to go for the game, and the space would’ve opened up. I was going to put on Kosta and OVH (Van Hattum) and then the game would’ve opened up. Look, it’s not a big thing. The four subs is just what I felt.

“I was glad because (Fin) Conchie won the ball then OVH scored his first goal as well. I’m buzzing for those kids.”

Wellington entered the contest having not conceded more than one goal in any of their last seven match – their joint-longest streak without conceding multiple goals in a game in competition history; in fact, they had kept three clean sheets across their last four games in the competition (W2 D2).

But they were put under pressure but an impressive Adelaide outfit at Sky Stadium.

After Phoenix centre-back Scott Wootton’s effort deflected just wide of the post in the 11th minute, Harry van der Saag had a pair of chances for the visitors.

In the 24th minute, Van der Saag saw his deflected effort flash just wide of the post and nine minutes later, he was inches away from heading Adelaide into the lead.

Old put the ball in the back of the net for Wellington a minute lead, though the flag was immediately up for offside. But after a VAR review, the goal was awarded as the ‘Nix celebrated.

It was the 11th time Wellington had opened the scoring in 2023-24, having not lost any of the previous 10.

Wellington should have doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when some fantastic footwork from David Ball picked out Bozhidar Kraev, who was unmarked in front of goal however his shot went agonisingly wide.

In the second minute of first-half stoppage time, Alex Paulsen produced an incredible save to deny Austin Ayoubi’s ferocious shot – a moment for the highlight reel.

The Phoenix struggled to get going in the second half and their subdued performance invited Adelaide to apply more pressure and it eventually led to the Reds equalising in the 59th minute.

Van der Saag drew a foul from Alex Rufer in the penalty area and Luka Jovanovic stepped up to convert the spot-kick in style, which proved to be his final piece of action.

That appeared to spark Wellington into action – Kraev rattled the post with the outside of his boot following a delightful run in the 67th minute and Tim Payne’s header was kept out by James Delianov moments later.

Giancarlo Italiano turned to his bench with four changes in the 68th minute and it proved to be a masterstroke.

Kosta Barbarouses and fellow sub Van Hattum combined as the latter bundled the ball into the back of the net within 44 seconds of his introduction.

Wellington moved out of sight 11 minutes from the end when Old’s powerful half-volley beat Delianov at his near post.

Van Hattum had the wind in his sails and nearly bagged his second of the match during the closing stages, however, his shot bounced back off the post.

Adelaide did pull a goal back through Hiroshi Ibusuki in the 95th minute, but it was too little too late for the Reds.