Brazilian import Daniel headed home the match winner midway through the second half to capitalise on the momentum the home side had built up over the previous ten minutes, and despite the Mariners? best efforts, Wellington were good value for their win.
The Mariners were dealt a blow before kick off when attacking lynchpin Ahmad Elrich was restricted to a place on the substitutes bench due to a minor ankle injury, which in addition to Mile Jedinak?s absence through a groin strain left the Mariners somewhat below strength in midfield.
With Qantas Under 23?s prospects Nigel Boogaard and Matt Simon away with the Beijing-bound Australian Olympic Games squad, the Mariners were spearheaded by Dylan Macallister and Sasho Petrovski in attack and vastly experienced pairing Alex Wilkinson and Andrew Clark in defence.
Adrian Caceres and Macallister were two debutants unveiled from the opening whistle, while second half substitute David D?Apuzzo also made his first official appearance in yellow and navy when replacing Matthew Osman with some twenty minutes to play.
In front of a very vocal attendance of 4,853, the Mariners were simply unable to breach the Phoenix backline and, despite returning from the Kiwi capital without any points to start their Group B tally with, will have benefited greatly from another solid pre-season hit out.
“It?s always hard coming to New Zealand, we?ve always said that and they probably had as close to their full squad as they are going to get and they played well ? full credit to them,” said Mariners Football Manager Lawrie McKinna after the match.
“The beginning of the second half, we thought we did well and dominated large parts and probably should have been up a goal.
“Their goal came from not enough pressure on the player crossing the ball and then it was a free header at the back post, but there were plenty of positives, Osman played about 70 minutes, Wilkinson got through the full game, which, credit to him because he was struggling at times and Dean Heffernan did very well.”
The Mariners and their opponents traded blows early before the Phoenix emerged as the most likely to score throughout a dominant, but not totally convincing middle period of the opening stanza.
The Phoenix were restricted mainly to long shots or half chances, many of which were comfortably dealt with by Mariners goalkeeper and match standout Danny Vukovic.
Macallister loomed most likely to score for the Mariners, most notably after outmuscling counterpart Andrew Durante to be put through on goal, only to shade his looping effort marginally wide of goal with Phoenix custodian Glen Moss beaten.
The former youth international came close again in the second half when powering a firm header towards goal from short cross from the right hand side, though Moss was well placed to save.
Strike partner Petrovski became more of a force for the Mariners as the match wore on, and, only seconds after Daniel?s back post header had put the Phoenix in front, crashed a header of his own against the woodwork.
It was after the Phoenix established their advantage on the scoreboard that the Mariners produced arguably their best football of the game, with wingbacks Bradley Porter and D?Apuzzo marauding forward at every opportunity in search of an equaliser.
Such runs provided further opportunities for the likes of Macallister, substitute Nik Mrdja and Petrovski, as well as midfield ace Caceres, each of whom had gilt edged chances to restore parity until referee Michael Hester signaled full time.
“There?s room for improvement, they put us under pressure when we gave the ball away, they never really cut us up when they had the ball, it was when we gave the ball away that they caught us on the break a lot,” said McKinna.
“Overall, it?s disappointing that we didn?t come away with a result, but we?re looking forward to next week against Sydney.”
Upon their return from Wellington, the Mariners? 2008 Pre-Season Cup campaign will continue at Bluetongue Stadium against Sydney FC on Sunday, 27 July. Kick off is at 3pm.
Tickets are on sale now from any Ticketek outlet, from the Ticketek website – www.ticketek.com.au, or via phone on 132 849.
Mariners Memberships for the Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season are now on sale at www.ccmariners.com.au.
Central Coast Mariners 20. Danny Vukovic (gk), 5. Bradley Porter, 6. Andre Gumprecht, 7. John Hutchinson, 8. Dean Heffernan (25. Nik Mrdja 78?), 10. Adrian Caceres, 11. Dylan Macallister, 15. Andrew Clark, 17. Matthew Osman (24. David D?Apuzzo 68?), 18. Alex Wilkinson, 22. Sasho Petrovski
Unused Subs 21. Ahmad Elrich, 30. Andrew Redmayne (gk)
Yellow Cards Clark 22?, Macallister 59?
Red Cards None
Wellington Phoenix 20. Glen Moss (gk), 3. Tony Lochhead, 4. Jon McKain, 5. Karl Dodd, 7. Leo Bertos, 9. Shane Smeltz, 10. Michael Ferrante, 11. Daniel, 17. Vince Lia (13. Troy Hearfield 46?), 21. Lei Lei Gao (8. Vaughan Coveny 88?), 24. Andrew Durante
Unused Subs 1. Mark Paston (gk), 12. Richard Johnson
Yellow Cards Hearfield 75?, Dodd 83?
Red Cards None
Goals Daniel 72?
Referee Michael Hester