An incredible four-goal performance from marquee man Alessandro Del Piero helped Sydney FC rout the bottom-placed Wellington Phoenix on Saturday night at Allianz Stadium.
|By JOHN GRECO
An Alessandro Del Piero masterclass has seen Sydney FC stroll to their biggest ever A-League win, humiliating Wellington Phoenix 7-1 at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
The Italian legend scored four times for the first time in his career to propel the Sky Blues back into the finals race in front of almost 13,000 delirious fans.
In Sydney's best team performance in some time, Joel Griffiths also got a goal on his debut with Sydney making the most of a Phoenix side low on confidence and slipshod in defence.
And Del Piero enjoyed the space that was afforded to him, completing his hat-trick before half-time - and adding an assist - on a record-breaking occasion.
The 38-year-old, who now has nine goals for the season, was substituted eight minutes from time to a standing ovation from the home fans.
But it was the Phoenix players who would have wished they could have had an early exit with him on a dark night for the club.
It was their heaviest A-League defeat, surpassing the 6-2 thrashing at the hands of Adelaide in 2008.
It's now four losses on the trot for the Phoenix who remain stranded on the bottom of the ladder, with the pressure sure to increase on under-fire coach Ricki Herbert.
But take nothing away from Del Piero who produced one of the best individual displays ever seen in the A-League.
Much of the talk before the game was just how well Del Piero would combine with new strike partner Griffiths and Sydney fans had their answer inside 11 minutes.
Del Piero was given too much space on halfway, turning and chipping an exquisite ball over the Phoenix defence with Griffiths timing his run perfectly before sliding his finish underneath Mark Paston.
Full of confidence from their early breakthrough, Sydney then blew the Phoenix off the park with three goals between the 21st and 26th minutes.
Del Piero received a Terry McFlynn cross in the box, turning his marker easily before curling a pinpoint left-foot shot high into the top far corner.
Two minutes later, the Sky Blues were awarded a rather contentious penalty, with Phoenix captain Andrew Durante adjudged to have fouled Jason Culina in the box although replays suggested referee Kris Griffiths-Jones got it wrong.
It mattered little to Del Piero, who sent Paston the wrong way to make it 3-0.
Three minutes later Del Piero turned provider, sending Ali Abbas into space down the left wing.
The Iraqi international sent over a cross which made its way to Culina at the far post, with the classy midfielder's left-foot volley flying low past Paston into the bottom corner.
The Phoenix were shell-shocked but it got worse just before the break with Del Piero completing his hat-trick with the best goal of the match.
Receiving the ball on the left the 38-year-old ran at the defence, dropping his shoulder and faking a shot to work some space before burying his effort into the far corner.
No doubt still stinging from some harsh words from Herbert at the break, the Phoenix put up much more of a fight in the second half.
But they could do nothing to stop Del Piero adding his fourth 20 minutes from the end, again doing it all on his own as he mesmerised Durante down the left before giving Paston no chance with another cracking finish.
A Ben Sigmund header 11 minutes from the end was a mere consolation for the visitors but Sydney still were to have the final say with substitute Yairo Yau completing a memorable night for the Sky Blues.