Hyundai A-League Season 7

Shane Derham also reports from Melbourne
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Play-off rivals produce rip-roaring stalemate
By Jeremy Ruane
with the compliments of

A-League 2011/2012 - Round 23
5:30pm, Saturday 10 March, 2012 - Melbourne Football Stadium

Melbourne Heart FC 1
(Eli Babalj 32')

drew with
Wellington Phoenix FC 1
(Paul Ifill 80')

Melbourne Heart and Wellington Phoenix fought out a rip-roaring 1-1 draw in their Hyundai A-League clash at AAMI Park on March 10 which edged the visiting team a point closer to earning a home game in the upcoming play-offs.

But it was a point they hardly looked like getting in a storming first half, which saw chances galore contrived and spurned as the 6,759-strong crowd were thrilled by a frenetic forty-five minutes of football in which the home team definitely had the edge.

It could have been 3-1 to Melbourne after just eight minutes! Eli Babalj guided a fourth minute header, from Michael Marrone’s early angled cross, wide of the far post, then saw Mark Paston pluck his looping header, from a Mate Dugandzic free-kick, from beneath the crossbar two minutes later.

Nick Ward then fired across the face of Clint Bolton’s goal as Wellington mounted their first attack thanks to Vince Lia’s probing ball forward, but the resulting goal-kick sparked a sprightly counter-attack by Melbourne, with Dugandzic’s surging run and Fred’s deft back-heel not done justice by the rising finish of Jonathan Germano, who was following up in support but was unable to direct his effort on target.

Both teams committed handball offences inside their respective penalty areas which weren’t spotted by the officials inside the next seven minutes. Tony Lochhead’s denial inadvertently kept out a goal-bound Germano effort, which arose after Aziz Behich, Fred and Babalj had prised open Wellington’s rearguard.

The visitors’ response saw Dani Sanchez pick out Tim Brown, whose goal-bound effort was thwarted by the arm of Curtis Good - again, referee Peter Green was indifferent to the penalty appeals of the attacking team.

Wellington had plenty more to concern themselves with, however, their former player being one of their principle concerns. Fred came desperately close to breaking the deadlock at the expense of his former employers in the seventeenth minute, only to see Paston get down well to tip his rasping twenty-yard drive round the post.

Still Melbourne pressed, Bolton’s distribution releasing Behich down the left in the nineteenth minute, with the fullback picking out Dugandzic with his cross. The ball just would not stay down for the striker, however, although the pressure applied by Manny Muscat didn’t help the home team’s cause.

A corner resulted, with Dugandzic’s delivery of the twentieth minute set-piece picking out Good. Paston parried his effort, but the rebound fell invitingly for Babalj to despatch into the net. Before he had a chance to pull the trigger, Ben Sigmund stepped in to maintain parity on the scoreboard.

After such a helter-skelter opening stanza, it was understandable that both teams should take a few minutes for a bit of a respite. But come the half-hour mark, they were at it hammer and tongs again, Marrone leading the charge for Melbourne.

Babalj, Fred and Dugandzic all benefited from the fullback’s thrusting run, with the last-mentioned ultimately charging into the penalty area before crossing towards Babalj on the far post.

The lanky striker was denied by Sigmund’s timely clearance on this occasion, but when Dugandzic picked out his young team-mate with a perfectly flighted free-kick in the 32nd minute, Babalj wasn’t to be denied, his downward header from six yards proving too hot for Paston to handle - 1-0 Melbourne.

Wellington initially reeled from this setback, but five minutes before half-time should have been afforded the chance to get back on level terms from the penalty spot when Ifill, who had swooped on a loose ball and charged into the eighteen-yard box, was clumsily taken out from behind by Fred.

Referee Green, who had a clear view of the incident, again opted out of making a call on a foul inside the penalty area - guarantee he wouldn’t have hesitated had it taken place outside the box! - adding further evidence to his growing reputation as a match official who lacks the bottle to make decisions of a controversial nature.

The visitors’ frustration was evident in Andrew Durante’s over-the-top challenge on Germano seconds later, which fully warranted the yellow card which eventually followed.

For before Green could act, there was a gathering of the clans, Dugandzic having taken offence to the tackle, which brought Sigmund on the scene, followed by a posse of stripe-shirted players from both teams, some intent on peace-making, others opting to contribute to the melee in a more traditional manner.

Calm was eventually restored, and the aforementioned trio of offenders were all booked by the referee, who added Muscat - who was fortunate to avoid a card for his part in the melee - to his tally soon after as the defender deliberately handled a Behich cross.

Dugandzic flighted the resulting free-kick into the danger zone, but Paston plucked the ball off the head of Simon Colosimo, who had a massive game in Melbourne’s rearguard - Ifill was by and large in his back pocket throughout proceedings.

As Colosimo dashed back towards his own goal following this near miss, Paston threw the ball out to Ifill, who spread play wide to Muscat as Wellington swept downfield on a fast-paced counter-attack two minutes before half-time.

The fullback’s initial attempt to cross was blocked, but his second found both Sanchez and Chris Greenacre arriving at the near post, an equaliser seemingly inevitable. But both were left with their head in their hands as they watched the ball spin out for a corner, Colosimo having made up the ground to keep his team in front at half-time.

The second half wasn’t quite as lively as the first, although it certainly had its moments. But there were too many fouls, and instances of inaccurate and broken play from both teams, for it to compare favourably with the opening forty-five minutes.

Nonetheless, there was plenty of incident, beginning with a bizarre error by Bolton in the 52nd minute when he threw the sphere straight to Ifill. Incredibly, Wellington’s talisman failed to take advantage, volleying the ball back to a grateful goalkeeper who, so impotent had the visitors’ attack been to this point, had had little to do from a defensive perspective, a situation which was to continue for a good while yet.

A rare Wellington raid in the 64th minute featured Muscat, Ward and substitutes Alex Smith and Mirjan Pavlovic, whose driven cross, targeting Greenacre, was steered to safety by Colosimo as Melbourne also struggled to re-establish their first half rhythm.

Led by Fred, however, they did so, the Brazilian cleverly wrong-footing two players in the 68th minute before playing in substitute Craig Goodwin, who charged into the penalty area before looking to set up Babalj for his second goal of the game.

Durante deemed otherwise, however, and stepped in again two minutes later to foil Germano after Wellington had given the ball away in their own defensive third, prompting dark looks to be cast in the direction of the central midfielders, Brown in particular.

Sixteen minutes from time, Melbourne looked to make the game safe, with Fred and Dugandzic combining neatly for Wayne Srhoj to evade a couple of challenges before crossing towards Babalj, who was arriving on the far post. Paston’s intervention meant the striker wouldn’t double his tally for the match on this occasion.

Instead, when the goal net next bulged, it was Melbourne’s onion bag which was billowing after what was easily Wellington’s best move of the match. Durante picked out substitute Nick Tsattalios, who linked with Lia before the makeshift fullback played the ball back to his captain.

Durante, who had moved up in support, spotted a darting run across the penalty area by Greenacre and played a slide-rule pass into the striker, whose deft touch allowed Ifill, arriving on the run, to unleash a first-time twenty yard drive.

Unleash is the word! The ball fair scorched beyond the flailing arms of Bolton and inside his near post before slamming into the net and, such was the ferocity with which it was hit, cannoning back into the field of play. A terrific strike - 1-1.

Melbourne instantly introduced Alex Terra to the fray, in the hope that he would “Terra-rise” Wellington’s rearguard in the final ten minutes as they set about regaining their long-held lead.

He had the chances to do so, rattling the side-netting within ninety seconds of coming on after linking with Srhoj and Dugandzic, then being denied the chance to shoot when Lia’s timely interception prevented Fred’s pass from reaching the newcomer.

Fred then got the better of Sigmund after Wellington had failed to clear their lines, only for Durante to intervene as the Brazilian looked to play in Babalj with three minutes remaining. Melbourne continued to press, but to no avail, Sigmund’s headed clearance of Dugandzic’s last-minute corner ensuring both sides of a point which keeps their respective play-off prospects well and truly alive.

A-League 2011/2012 - Round 23
5:30pm, Saturday 10 March, 2012 - Melbourne Football Stadium

Melbourne Heart FC 1
(Eli Babalj 32')
drew with
Wellington Phoenix FC 1
(Paul Ifill 80')

    Crowd: 6,759


    Melbourne Heart FC :
    Player listing:
    1. Clint Bolton (gk) 2. Michael Marrone 4. Simon Colosimo 5. Fred (c) (3. Brendan Hamill 88') 6. Matt Thompson (27. Chris Goodwin 62') 10. Wayne Srhoj 13. Jonathan Germano (11. Alex Terra 81') 16. Aziz Behich 18. Curtis Good 19. Eli Babalj 23. Mate Dugandzic

    Substitutes not used: 30. Sebastian Mattei (rgk)

    Coach: John van’t Schip

    Yellow Cards: Mate Dugandzic 42'
    Red Cards: Nil

    Wellington Phoenix FC :
    Player listing:
    1. Mark Paston (gk) 2. Manny Muscat 3. Tony Lochhead (14. Mirjan Pavlovic 64') 6. Tim Brown 8. Paul Ifill 9. Chris Greenacre 12. Nick Ward (13. Nikolas Tsattalios 72') 17. Vince Lia 18. Ben Sigmund 21. Daniel Sanchez (24. Alexander Smith 64') 22. Andrew Durante
    Substitutes not used: 20. Tony Warner (rgk)

    Coach: Ricki Herbert

    Yellow Cards: Andrew Durante 42', Ben Sigmund 42', Manny Muscat 44'
    Red Cards: Nil

    Referee: Peter Green 3/10
    Assistants: George Lakrindis, Matthew Cream; 4th Official: Lucien Laverdure

    Pitch rating: 7/10

    Game rating: 7/10

    Best players :

    3. Ben Sigmund (WP)
    2. Simon Colosimo (MH)
    1. Dugandzic (MH)

    Match Report 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 supplied by FFA and used by permission.

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