English strike pair star in Phoenix win

Daniel Gilhooly
The Wellington Phoenix's A-League resurgence has continued with a 2-1 win over lowly Central Coast

Wellington's target of a perfect January is under way with a 2-1 A-League win over Central Coast, built on goals to their English strikers Gary Hooper and David Ball.

The Phoenix extended their unbeaten run to eight games with a workmanlike display at Sky Stadium on Saturday, consigning the 10th-placed Mariners to their fourth loss in five matches.

All of the goals came in the first half via Phoenix players.

Seasoned pair Hooper and Ball put the hosts two goals up inside half an hour before Wellington defender Luke DeVere's own goal on the stroke of the break gave Central Coast a look-in.

The three points further cements Wellington's place in the top six.

The Kiwi side will finish the round in fourth or fifth place and hoping to capitalise on a friendly schedule in January.

Coach Ufuk Talay has publicly challenged his players to win four from four games - all against teams ranked in the bottom half.

Their prospects are helped by the improving fitness of former Celtic striker Hooper, who made his seventh appearance but just his second start this season.

The 31-year-old's only previous start was two months ago against Melbourne City - when he scored his other goal for the club but suffered a quad strain, reducing him to short bench appearances since.

Hooper looked short of game time and was eclipsed for impact by Ball, who was a constant menace.

The former Fleetwood Town striker's departure soon after the break with an apparent hip flexor injury affected the Phoenix, Talay said.

"I wasn't pleased about the second half. Bally coming off injured changed things for us. That wasn't in the game plan," he said.

"We adapted to it. We weren't great in the second half but we were good enough to keep them out."

Mariners coach Alen Stajcic omitted Milan Djuric completely for the first time this season, indicating saying the Serbian attacking midfielder had a "few issues" and was in need of a rest four days after their 3-0 loss to Perth.

Stajcic didn't use the short turnaround as an excuse.

"To me, Wellington are one of the top two or three teams in the competition at the moment... but to all intents and purposes we competed today and in a lot of aspects outplayed them," he said.

"There's a lot of pleasing aspects but we know that points are critical if we want to be contenders for the finals series."

Hooper's tap-in goal, his second for the Phoenix came via some strong build-up work from Ball and a Tim Payne assist in the 13th minute.

Ball's goal was more spectacular, cutting inside two defenders before curling a low shot inside the far post from a difficult angle.

Ball went close twice before a big finish to the first half from the Mariners, who benefited from an unfortunate DeVere flick header off Jack Clisby's cross.

Chances dried up for both teams in the second half, although Jordan Murray and Daniel De Silva came close to equalising late for Central Coast.