Last-gasp goal sees Brisbane sink Wellington

Wellington Phoenix FC 1

(Stein Huysegems 22′)

lost to

Brisbane Roar FC 2

(Besart Berisha 47′, Ivan Franjic 90′)

by Jeremy Ruane

with the compliments of

A last-gasp goal from Brisbane Roar’s Ivan Franjic clinched a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over an under-strength Wellington Phoenix combination at Westpac Stadium on 13 October, where the home team were deserving of at least a share of the spoils.

But despite the urgings of the 8,239 fans present, new coach Ernie Merrick could only look on as his charges were denied at the death in their opening match of the 2013-14 Hyundai A-League season.

The opening exchanges in this affair saw Wellington dominating territory and possession, but it was Brisbane who were first to show their hand, in the thirteenth minute.

Besart Berisha – like him or loathe him, he’s always a factor you cannot ignore – got the better of Michael Boxall and burst into the penalty area, only for Jacob Spoonley to race out and save at his feet.

Seconds later, Thomas Broich and Liam Miller combined for Kwame Yeboah’s benefit, the striker laying the ball off to Berisha on the edge of the area. But the Albanian was startled by the anticipation of Spoonley, who bravely blocked at the front-runner’s feet again, Ben Sigmund stepping in to complete the clearance.

Wellington were without four senior players who were on All Whites’ duty, but that still didn’t prevent them from opening the scoring in the 21st minute. Following a cleared corner, acting skipper Sigmund sparked the move with an angled ball which picked out Boxall.

The lanky defender headed it down into the stride of Stein Huysegems, who gleefully stabbed it home from eight yards – 1-0 Wellington, much to the delight of the local faithful.

Brisbane sought a swift riposte, and came within the width of a post of finding it just four minutes later. Franjic and Broich worked a one-two on the left which saw the former dance past four challenges before turning Sigmund this way and that prior to unleashing a deflected shot which sped past Spoonley, only to hit the near upright.

The challenges were beginning to get rather meaty by this time, and referee Tim McGilchrist was soon reaching for his yellow card, brandishing it four times in a thirteen-minute spell before half-time.

One particularly rugged tackle saw Wellington’s Carlos Hernandez cleverly angle a thirty-yard free-kick in behind Brisbane’s defence. Quelle horreur! For there was Boxall, ghosting in to meet it. The big defender just couldn’t get enough purchase on his diving header to guide it inside the near post, the ball instead hitting the side-netting.

Brisbane heeded that warning, and set about responding with some attacks of their own, inspired by Broich. Whereas Berisha is very much in your face, the German is an artful schemer, a thinking man’s footballer whose movement and passes bear comparison with a surgeon working on a patient, everything executed with purpose and precision.

Such as those attacks he oversaw in the 36th and 37th minutes. The first was a solo thrust, wriggling through four challenges while moving in off the left before picking out Berisha, whose goal-bound shot on the turn was blocked by Reece Caira.

Seconds later, Broich split Wellington’s defence with a gem of a pass which found Berisha darting across the defensive line on a tight-angled run in order to remain onside.

That achieved, the task of beating Spoonley proved beyond him once more, the ‘keeper’s anticipation again allowing him to prevail, this time at close quarters near the edge of the penalty area.

Five minutes before half-time, Wellington came desperately close to doubling their advantage. Caira’s raking ball forward allowed Kenny Cunningham to outsmart and outfox Brisbane stalwart Shane Stefanutto, only to shoot straight at Michael Theo.

He battered the shot away, but only as far as Hernandez, who promptly let fly, only to find Theo had recovered his position and was perfectly placed to save his head-high drive.

Berisha had a close-range headed effort ruled out by the offside flag on the stroke of half-time, a warning which Wellington failed to heed. For within a minute of the resumption of play, Brisbane had equalised while the home team was still in their dressing room, mentally at least.

Franjic set off down the left on a buccaneering run into the box, and from the by-line he pulled the ball back into the stride of Berisha, whose unerring finish brought about parity.

Luke Adams was one of several Wellington debutants, but in his case, he was playing out of position – a fullback he most definitely is not! As was proven once more in the 53rd minute, as Stephanotis’s pass bemused the out-of-position stand-in and allowed Franjic to cause mayhem once more, until he found Spoonley thwarting him with his legs right on the edge of the penalty area – the ‘keeper had a cracking game!

Wellington’s response to this should have seen them regain the lead in the 54th minute. Huysegems and Hernandez combined to play Jason Hicks through the inside left channel.

The mobile midfielder was one of the home team’s better-performed players, but his lack of conviction – he crossed on this occasion, when his first priority should have been a shot on target – saw a glorious opportunity wastefully spurned.

On the hour, Huysegems took on the defence some twenty-five yards out from goal, and made good progress before finding Hernandez in support. The former Melbourne Victory playmaker sent a rasping fifteen yard drive flashing inches over the crossbar.

Five minutes later, Hernandez featured again, this time in tandem with substitute Albert Riera, an artful midfielder who has just joined Wellington from OFC Champions League title-holders Auckland City – definitely the latter’s loss, make no mistake!

Between them, they released Hicks on the overlap, and his cross found Huysegems well placed to lash a fifteen-yard volley at the target. Theo’s fine parried save maintained parity.

Seconds later, the ‘keeper’s rashness was nearly punished by Wellington substitute Paul Ifill. He was far too clever for Theo, cleverly outfoxing him before lobbing the ball into the goalmouth from the by-line. Before Huysegems could turn the ball home, Brisbane’s captain, Matthew Smith, spared his team’s blushes with a stunning diving-headed goal-line clearance – a brilliant piece of defensive work.

With around fifteen minutes to go, numerous Wellington players were tiring, Vince Lia among them. His stray pass was pounced on by Broich, who instantly clipped a cross onto the head of Franjic. From eight yards out, he rattled the crossbar.

Immediately, Wellington launched a counter-attack, Hernandez and Huysegems combining well with Ifill, only for the home team’s talisman to shoot tamely at Theo from fifteen yards – a fully fit Ifill would not have been so lacking in conviction, given the same opportunity.

In the final ten minutes, Wellington’s fitness issues began to become even more obvious, with Hicks and, in particular, Caira, struggling with knocks in the final stages.

Not so Broich, who brought the best out of Spoonley in the 81st minute, then probed Wellington’s near post area so successfully with a cross that Sigmund, in desperation, was forced to head a delivery intended for Franjic narrowly over his own crossbar.

The home side were hanging on, and looked like they would do so until a tired challenge from Lia tripped Broich right on the edge of the area – one more stride, he was inside, and the penalty spot would have been pointed at, almost certainly.

Instead, Broich was forced to chance his arm with a free-kick, which Spoonley grabbed greedily. But he was given no chance in the second minute of stoppage time, as Brisbane clinched a dramatic 2-1 victory at the death.

Manny Muscat and Sigmund were caught ball-watching as a ball forward by Brisbane found Miller marauding in behind them. The midfielder pulled the sphere back into Broich’s stride, and his shot rattled the post.

But the rebound landed perfectly in the stride of Franjic, who drove home the goal which broke Wellington’s hearts and delighted the small pocket of travelling supporters braving the elements in the opening round of the campaign, one which sees Brisbane among just three teams boasting the perfect record after a solitary match.


Wellington Phoenix FC: Spoonley (booked, 41); Adams (Riera, 55), Boxall, Sigmund, Caira; Lia, Muscat (booked, 38), Hicks; Cunningham (Ifill, 55), Huysegems (Boyd, 84), Hernandez (booked, 35)

Brisbane Roar FC: Theo; Hingert, North, Smith, Stefanutto; Miller, Brattan (booked, 28), Franjic; Yeboah (Henrique, 62), Berisha, Broich

Referee: Tim McGilchrist

Match – 6/10
Referee – 5/10
Pitch – 7/10

3  Broich (BR)
2  Spoonley (WP)
1  Berisha (BR)