REUTERS: Head coach Ufuk Talay hailed the influence of Wellington Phoenix's long-suffering fans on Saturday as his side ended a lengthy exile on Saturday with a victory that keeps alive their slim hopes of a place in the A-League's end-of-season playoffs.
The Phoenix had gone 433 days without playing in front of their own supporers, with restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the club to play all of their matches so far this season in Australia.
But with the recent establishment of a travel corridor between Australia and New Zealand, the Phoenix finally returned home to a crowd of 24,105 at Wellington Regional Stadium as they handed Western United a 3-0 defeat.
"For us, it's been a long time coming – I think the boys showed a great performance to the crowd, there's a lot of belief in this squad and the support for us tonight was immense," said Talay.
"We dominated the ball tonight, we had a lot of the ball and they tried to hit us in transition but I thought we were in total control of the game from start to finish."
Clayton Lewis, Reno Piscopo and Tomer Hemed scored for Talay's side, who moved up to seventh in the standings, three points behind Brisbane Roar in the sixth and final playoff berth.
"We knew we were going to get great support tonight, that there was going to be a lot of fans out there," said Talay.
"It's something that we haven't had all season, so the boys just had to focus and go out there and win three points."
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)