Luke DeVere of the Phoenix and Besart Berisha of Western United FC contest the ball on Friday night in Wellington. Picture: Ross Setford/AAP
Luke DeVere of the Phoenix and Besart Berisha of Western United FC contest the ball on Friday night in Wellington. Picture: Ross Setford/AAP

Western United coach booed in 'homecoming' to Wellington

WESTERN United coach Mark Rudan has numerous fond memories of Wellington, but Friday night won't be one of them.

His Western United were outclassed 2-0 by the Phoenix in miserable conditions, he was heckled by fans who once lauded him, another key player was injured and the club is facing a fine for rushing new signing Steven Lustica back into the A-League too quickly.

Not only that, the seventh-placed Victorian club's finals hopes are wobbling with eight games remaining in their inaugural season.

Rudan showed no outward signs of pressure after a third straight scoreless performance, expressing confidence his team can recover.

And he insisted he had no regrets at cutting short his Wellington contract at the end of last season, having returned the Phoenix to the play-offs with a sixth-placed finish.

Under Ufuk Talay, Wellington are riding high in equal-second and looked on another level to the visitors, firing off 21 shots to five.

Rudan's night got no easier as he walked off Sky Stadium to a chorus of booing from Phoenix supporters.

"Great theatre, so they should. I'm working for the opposition, so they should, no dramas there," Rudan said of the reception.

"I'm really pleased for Uffie, I'm really pleased for the Wellington faithful and for their football club.

"As hard as it might be for me to say it because I'm the opposing coach, but I had a special time here last year and it's great to see it continue, it really is."

Rudan couldn't provide an immediate diagnosis for Panagiotis Kone, who was forced from the field in some pain with a forearm injury on the half-hour. To rub salt in the wounds, Wellington's opening goal to Liberato Cacace came while Greek forward Kone was an on-field spectator immediately following the injury.

Rudan pleaded ignorance about the starting selection of experienced midfielder Lustica, whose name appeared on the Western United team sheet just minutes after the club had announced his signing on an 18-month contract.

While Lustica had been training under Rudan for two weeks and was registered, the club had failed to list him in their matchday squad earlier in the week and a fine from the FFA is likely forthcoming.

Rudan was targeting next week's home match against lowly Central Coast as a chance to launch a season revival.

"There's always an opportunity. We've seen, particularly this season, that if someone gets a run of games, anything can happen," he said.

"Momentum is huge and confidence and belief is all packed up into one. We've got to keep fighting away and working away."

WELLINGTON PHOENIX 2 (Liberato Cacace 29m, David Ball 90m) bt WESTERN UNITED 0 at Sky Stadium. Referee: Shaun Evans


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