Hyundai A-League - 2011/2012 - Season 7

Muscat discovers his licence to score at last
By Jeremy Ruane
with the compliments of

2011/2012 Hyundai A-League - Round 16
8 pm, Friday 20 January, 2012
at Newcastle Stadium, Broadmeadow

Newcastle Jets FC 0
lost to
Wellington Phoenix FC 1
(Manny Muscat 58')

(linked from FFA web site)

Wellington Phoenix made it back-to-back away wins in the Hyundai A-League for the first time in their history on January 20 as Manny Muscat scored his first goal for the club to earn a 1-0 win at Newcastle Jets which strengthens their grip on a top-four placing with the premiership phase of the season now two-thirds completed.

The visitors fired the first shot in anger at Ausgrid Stadium, to the delight of the Wellington fans in the 11,649-strong crowd, when Ben Sigmund’s early ball over the top caught the Newcastle defence napping.

Chris Greenacre stole in behind them and looked to lob the ball over the advancing Ben Kennedy, whose vital save came at the expense of a corner, which was quickly taken, and allowed Alex Smith to whip over a cross which former Newcastle employee Tim Brown headed narrowly over the crossbar.

The home team responded strongly to this scare, so much so that they enjoyed the better of the exchanges during the bulk of the rest of the half. But too often their approach work foundered on wayward passes, which undid a lot of their endeavours, and made for an at times scrappy, disjointed spectacle.

Wellington, when they had possession, seemed to have caught the same virus, when they weren’t knocking it aimlessly downfield, that is. But their resolute defensive effort was up to the task, although they did ride their luck in the early stages.

Michael Bridges sprayed the ball wide to the overlapping Sung Hwan Byun in the sixteenth minute, and his delicious cross invited Ryan Griffiths to meet the ball on the volley. He was unable to keep the ball down from six yards out, however.

Two minutes later, Byun’s corner was met by the head of Nikolai Topor-Stanley. A brilliant back-heel from Bridges was the key moment in the move, and invited birthday boy Ben Kantulovski to let fly from eight yards. He, too, sent the ball over the bar - how he’d have loved to mark his twentieth birthday with a goal, one his performance merited.

Wellington were next to threaten, Kennedy saving at the feet of Dani Sanchez after Nick Ward pounced on a defensive slip, but Newcastle were swift to threaten again, Mark Paston producing a fine fingertip save to his right to deny Tarek Elrich’s bouncing volley as the speedster pounced on Sigmund’s headed clearance and let fly from twenty yards in the 24th minute.

Five minutes later, Taylor Regan headed a Byun corner over the bar, while seven minutes before half-time, the persistent play of Ward on the right finally enjoyed some support when Paul Ifill arrived on the scene and received a pass which allowed him to take on the Newcastle defence in the penalty area. The striker blazed the ball wide of the target after evading a couple of challenges.

Newcastle piled on the pressure before the interval, and nearly punished the hesitance of Paston in the process. Elrich and Griffiths combined with Bridges, whose tempting low cross found Griffiths stealing in on the far post.

His shot on the turn was deflected, but was within easy reach of Wellington’s goalkeeper. Paston, however, was caught in two minds, and nearly paid the price when the otherwise anonymous Jeremy Brockie appeared on the scene and let fly.

Paston blocked this effort, and was far more decisive moments later when Ruben Zadkovich played a ball through for Brockie to chase. His All Whites’ team-mate hurtled out of his penalty area and cleared the threat emphatically, bringing the half to a close in the process.

Within fifty seconds of the second half commencing, Wellington could well have been in front. Manny Muscat was given licence to push forward in the second spell, and wasted little time in doing so, as he stormed down the right straight from the kick-off before delivering a hanging cross which Kennedy managed to punch away, but not decisively.

For the ball fell to Sanchez, and after controlling it he fair smashed a volley over the bewildered ‘keeper’s head, but agonisingly past the far post - mere inches separated the visitors from taking the lead.

Whatever was in Wellington’s half-time tea clearly had the desired effect, for within four minutes, Alex Smith had delivered a cracking free-kick into the danger zone for Sanchez to meet with a flying header. The ball flashed over the bar ten yards away.

Elrich had given the free-kick away, and picked up a yellow card for his troubles - the first of three Newcastle players to be booked. The incident clearly fired him up, for in the 53rd minute he scythed in off the left flank and unleashed a twenty yard rocket which startled Paston, who could only palm it round the post.

Wellington’s response to this scare saw them take the lead in the 58th minute, the end product of a concerted spell of passing - the best in the game - which featured the contributions of Smith, Brown, Ward, Andrew Durante and Ifill, whose incisive angled ball split the Newcastle defence and invited Muscat to dash into the penalty area off the right flank.

He wrong-footed Byun before curling home a beauty beyond Kennedy and into the net by the far post - in his 85th appearance for Wellington, his first goal for the club, and definitely one for the career highlights reel! And wasn’t he delighted!! Rightly so!

Within ninety seconds, that lead could have been doubled, and would have been had Sanchez timed his jump to meet Ward’s cross to the near post after Ifill had ignited the move with a pass to his hard-working midfield team-mate.

Newcastle weren’t going to take this setback lying down, having scored in all their previous matches at the venue this season. Griffiths went close with a rasping low drive which sped past the far post after Kantarovski and Bridges had combined on the hour, while four minutes later a twenty-five yarder from the birthday boy was grabbed by Paston, making amends for his sluggishness in dealing with Griffiths’ effort.

The changes began to be rung, as the home team grew increasingly frustrated at their inability to break down Wellington’s resolute rearguard as frequently as they would like.

They also had to be aware of a roving Maltesian with a newly discovered licence to score! In the 66th minute, Muscat broke up a Newcastle attack, surged forward and played the ball to Ifill before carrying on his run downfield.

Surrounded by opponents, Ifill managed to thread a way through them and thread a pass through for Muscat - now in nosebleed territory - to attempt to get on the end of. Kennedy was alert to the danger, and cleared it adeptly.

Back came the hosts, with Brockie curling an effort over the bar after Griffiths had done the hard work. At the other end, only Taylor Regan’s timely clearance prevented Sanchez’s cross from reaching the fast-arriving Leo Bertos, while Ifill found himself going to ground by foul means rather than fair, as Zadkovich allowed his frustrations to get the better of him and swung out at the Wellington striker.

Ifill was a real thorn in the side of Newcastle once the visitors had taken the lead, and was instrumental in a superb counter-attack eight minutes from time. Durante caught Brockie in possession and promptly surged forward before playing in Ifill on the left.

The striker delivered a delicious cross which found Sanchez storming through the middle into the penalty area, and from ten yards out with just Kennedy to beat, a match-clinching goal looked odds on. But the Spaniard somehow contrived to guide his effort wide of the target - a glaring miss, and one was left wondering how he achieved the feat.

Unperturbed, Wellington kept on pressing, with Sigmund and Ifill combining for substitute Jimmy Downey to lash a twenty yarder over the bar as the game moved into stoppage time, during which Newcastle pounded away in search of an equaliser.

But their nemesis had done enough, a tenth win in twelve matches between these teams firing Wellington into an overnight third placing - the highest position they’ve ever occupied in the A-League to date.

2011/2012 Hyundai A-League - Round 16
8 pm, Friday 20 January, 2012
at Newcastle Stadium, Broadmeadow u>

Newcastle Jets FC 0
lost to
Wellington Phoenix FC 1
(Manny Muscat 58')

    Crowd: 11,694


    Newcastle Jets FC :
    Player listing:
    1. Ben KENNEDY (gk), 2. Taylor REGAN, 4. Nikolai TORPER STANLEY, 13. BUYN Sung-Hwan, 6. Ben KANTAROVSKI (Ali Abbas +75'), 8. Jeremy BROCKIE, 10. Ruben ZADKOVICH, 9. Michael BRIDGES +65’), 23. Ryan GRIFFITHS (c), 25. Jacob PEPPER (Jobe Wheelhouse +65'), Tarek ELRICH (14. Labinot Haliti +65')
    Substitutes not used: (rgk)

    Coach: Gary van Egmond

    Yellow Cards: 48" Tarek ELRICH 73" Jobe WHEELHOUSE 78" Ruben ZADKOVICH
    Red Cards:Nil

    Wellington Phoenix FC :
    Player listing:
    1. Mark PASTON, 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHEAD, 7. Leo BERTOS, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 22. Andrew DURANTE, 24. Alexander SMITH, Brown, 12. Nick WARD (Leo Bertos, 66), 21. Dani SANCHEZ (Jimmy Downey, 87); Paul IFILLl (11. Daniel, 90')
    Substitutes not used: 20. Anthony WARNER (rgk), 13. Nikolas TSATTALIOS

    Coach: Ricki Herbert

    Yellow Cards: Nil
    Red Cards: Nil

    Referee: Jarred Gillett 5/10
    Assistant Referees: Murray Wilson, Rod Allen ; Fourth official: Stuart Wolfe

    BOTN Player Points:
    3. Manny Muscat (WP)
    2. Ben Kantarovski (NJ)
    1. Paul Ifill (WP)

    Pitch rating: 6/10

    Game rating: 5/10

    Match Report and ratings: By Jeremy Ruane

Disclaimer: The content of this report is the responsibility of the writer. Stats are either as recorded by the writer at the game, or as supplied by FFA, or a mixture - no responsibility can be taken for their compete accuracy although we do strive for that. Any photos used here, unless attributed, are as implicitly supplied by FFA and used by assumed permission.

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