Hat-trick hero Zawada fuels Wellington’s best-ever Isuzu UTE A-League start after three rounds

Catch the highlights as Wellington Phoenix took on Brisbane Roar in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Wellington Phoenix are off to their best-ever start to an Isuzu UTE A-League season inside the opening three rounds thanks to hat-trick hero Oskar Zawada and a thrilling 5-2 victory over Brisbane Roar.

Wellington and Brisbane put their undefeated records on the line at Sky Stadium and the high-flying Phoenix walked away with their unbeaten run intact on Saturday.

Oskar Zawada was the star of the show with his first A-Leagues hat-trick in a showdown which saw Florin Berenguer put the Roar ahead inside just 31 seconds.

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Tim Payne’s first ever A-Leagues goal and Zawada’s first of the afternoon gave the Phoenix a half-time lead, only for Nikola Mileusnic to restore parity within five minutes of the restart.

However, Wellington blew the Roar away thanks to quick-fire goals from Bozhidar Kraev and Zawada, who went on to take home the match ball with a 93rd-minute finish.

Brisbane stormed out of the blocks to open the scoring in what felt like Deja vu.

Against Sydney FC, Henry Hore broke the deadlock after just 48 seconds and on Saturday, Berenguer put the Roar ahead with only 31 seconds on the clock.

The French star fired a shot across Alex Paulsen as fans had barely taken their seats.

Wellington responded well though and just engineering their first real chance in the 21st minute, the home side were back on level terms three minutes later.

In his 93rd game, Payne restored parity with his first A-Leagues goal – he unleashed a shot hard and low past Macklin Freke.

By the 32nd minute, Wellington were ahead as Zawada and the Phoenix were gifted a goal.

It was self-inflicted by the Roar after captain Tom Aldred attempted to play a pass back to Freke but it landed straight at the feet of the Polish frontman, who make no mistake from close range.

Zawada should have had his second goal and Wellington should have been 3-1 ahead, however, the towering forward not only saw his stoppage-time effort hit the post but it was cleared off the line after he rounded the Roar goalkeeper.

There was almost another defensively calamity for the Roar at the start of the season half and it involved Aldred again after his backpass missed Freke and went just wide of the post, sparing the veteran skipper a forgettable own goal.

At the other end, Roar teenager Thomas Waddingham came within a whisker of equalising in the 48th minute but his side-footed effort flashed agonisingly wide.

Brisbane did get their goal five minutes later when Mileusnic’s deflected strike found the back of the net after the ‘Nix failed to clear their lines.

The topsy-turvy contest continued approaching the hour mark as Kraev ran into space, powered into the penalty area and curled his shot past Freke.

Freke had to retrieve the ball from his net five minutes later after Lukas Kelly-Heald’s cross went over the head of the Brisbane goalkeeper and onto the head of Zawada to score.

Deep into stoppage time, an unmarked Zawada bundled the ball over the line to complete his hat-trick and Wellington’s big win.

The talking point

Giancarlo Italiano and Ross Aloisi took unbeaten records into Saturday’s fixture, with both Wellington and Brisbane boasting four points from two games.

The Phoenix had never taken seven points from their opening three A-Leagues games until Saturday.

With the high-scoring win, Wellington are now undefeated in their last six A-League Men games against Brisbane in New Zealand (W3 D3).

The star

Who else but Oskar Zawada?

The Pole has scored nine goals in his last eight league games at Sky Stadium, including one in each of his last five games at the venue.

With four goals from three games, he is second in the Golden Boot standings.

What they said

Wellington’s fourth goal was scored by Zawada, but it was set up by exciting prospect Kelly-Heald.

The Phoenix handed out the longest contract in their history to Kelly-Heald in the off-season and the 18-year-old was again in the starting line-up on Saturday. Isaac Hughes, who was promoted heading into 2023-24, was also on the bench.

As Zawada and the Phoenix celebrated late in the game, the camera panned to the Wellington bench – six of the seven substitutes were academy products.

Sky New Zealand commentator Jacob Spoonley said: “I’ll tell you one thing Kiwi and Australian fans have been introduced to: this Wellington Phoenix academy.

“A lot of plaudits for the likes of Central Coast Mariners, obviously Adelaide United, but Wellington Phoenix under Chris Greenacre and Paul Temple, have been quietly going about their business in the background.”

Fellow commentator Jason Pine added: “Look at the bench and see Ben Old, Sam Sutton, Isaac Hughes Fergus Gillion, Jackson Manuel and Alby Kelly-Heald; six of the seven subs are academy products.

“Plus a few on there already, Lukas Kelly-Heald among them.

“Wellington are building something in New Zealand’s capital.

“They’re well aware next season they’re not going to be the only show on this side of the Tasman (with the APL announcing its preferred bidder for an A-Leagues expansion club in Auckland last month). But this has been a very, very pleasing afternoon’s work for Giancarlo Italiano and his men.”

What it means

The Phoenix are yet to taste defeat as they now prepare for a mouth-watering trip to AAMI Park to face Melbourne Victory (November 10) next week.

It is back to the drawing board for the previously unbeaten Roar, who will visit defending champions Central Coast Mariners on November 12.