Football: Wellington Phoenix A-League success sneaks up on rookie coach Giancarlo Italiano

Even Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano admits he did not anticipate his team being this competitive in his first season in charge.

Six weeks into their 2023/24 campaign, the team from the capital find themselves along atop the A-League table, unbeaten, after securing their first win across the Tasman.

They can thank the much-maligned video review process for their latest 1-0 result over Western United, after Ben Old's goal was initially ruled offside by the linesman, but confirmed after further analysis.

Wellington Phoenix celebrate victory over Western United.
Wellington Phoenix celebrate victory over Western United. Photo credit: Getty Images

With four wins and two draws to their name, the Phoenix are now two points clear of Western Sydney, who were held to their third draw of the season by third-placed Brisbane Roar. 

Adealide United can close within a point, with victory over Macarthur FC on Monday.

"I didn’t envisage that we’d be top of the table after six rounds,” conceded Italiano. "I had an inkling, after our two pre-season friendlies, that we’d be quite competitive this season, even though a lot of people wrote us off.

"It was disrespectful, but those two games also gave us a lot of insight. It was promising, but I didn't foresee we would be in this position."

Looking back through the club's history, the Phoenix have only once before topped the table this deep into a season. In 2014/15, they led through rounds 21-23 under Ernie Merrick, before they eventually finished fourth and were bundled out in the first round of playoffs.

Italiano concedes his side often relinquished control against Western United and had to withstand periods of pressure on goal.

"I think we're pretty resolute in defending," he said. "We've been in that situation quite a number of times this year.

"We work on defending by design - it's not a fluke. We give up quite a number of chances, but they're usually only half chances and blocked shots, things we can control.

"I was quite happy in that regard, I didn't feel panicked."

Old's winning goal was touch and go, but the longer officials deliberated, the better the outcome would be for Wellington.

"My first instinct, I thought it was offside," admitted Italiano. "When I saw the screen, because it was far away, it was a lot closer than I thought.

"The fact they deliberated for so long, I thought it must be onside."

The result also maintains Italiano's personal unbeaten record in charge, which includes two games he stood in for head coach Ufuk Talay during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I'm happy to come away with three points," he said. "Every game in the A-League is tough, so any away game, any three points, there's a lot of gratitude on our part.

"I think we deserved it on the chances today."