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Lia's wonder strike ignites Phoenix

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 10/12/2016 Cathy Walshe

Smiles have been few and far between for the Wellington Phoenix this season,

with the last week particularly grim following the resignation of coach Ernie Merrick.

Saturday's 3-0 win in Hamilton over Central Coast Mariners alone was enough to lift Wellington spirits.

Kosta Barbarouses opened the scoring after just 90 seconds, and Roy Krishna finished a lightning-quick counterattack in the 94th minute.

But it was a wonder strike from Vince Lia in the 66th minute which really ignited the game.

A rebound off the wall from the last of three quick free kicks fell to Lia, who unleashed a pile-driver into the top left corner and triggered jubilant celebrations from his teammates.

It was just his fourth goal in 10 years and 180 games for the Phoenix, and the 31-year-old midfielder celebrated in style.

"I don't know why everyone's so surprised," he said afterwards.

"The ball popped out, I took a touch and thought 'hit it. If it goes in, it goes in and if it goes over we reset.'

"It was nice off the boot, and it went it. I was a bit shocked."

Interim coach Chris Greenacre, a former Phoenix striker himself with 17 goals to his credit over three seasons, enjoyed the goal almost as much as Lia.

"That's a collector's item if ever I saw one, it was a terrific strike," he said afterwards.

"It's a true testament to Vince. He's a 100 percenter every single game, season on season."

Lia admitted the last week had probably been the toughest of his career, after Merrick quit following Wellington's 2-0 loss away to Adelaide.

"We felt we let Ernie down, the playing group, and as leaders we probably didn't get the team firing as much as we needed to on the field."

While there was no doubt the Phoenix dominated Central Coast, Greenacre sees the result as merely a step in the right direction.

He wants further improvement next Saturday when they meet Western Sydney Wanderers in Auckland, and is looking to Krishna, Barbarouses and Gui Finkler to provide the impetus.

"When we get those three players facing forward, and with Hamish Watson playing high, the pace they've got is enough to frighten every defence in the league.

"It's important we keep building on this little progression."

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