Melbourne prevail despite spirited Wellington revival

by Jeremy Ruane:

with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League 2013/14 Season, Round 4

7:30pm, Monday 4 November, 2013 – Etihad Stadium, Melbourne


Melbourne Victory FC 3

(Archie Thompson 9′, James Troisi 22′ 31′)


Wellington Phoenix FC 2

(Jeremy Brockie 37′, Paul Ifill 84′)

Melbourne Victory climbed to third place on the Hyundai A-League ladder on 4 November after holding off a spirited second half revival by Wellington Phoenix to prevail 3-2 in front of 23,226 fans at Etihad Stadium.

The result meant debutant Melbourne coach Kevin Muscat began his tenure in the best possible manner, at the expense of the club’s first coach, Ernie Merrick, who was making his maiden return to his old stamping ground since parting ways with the club.

At one stage in the first half, the locals looked well on course to hand out the mother and father of all hidings to the much-travelled visitors, whose defensive effort in the first forty-five minutes … let’s just say Wellington’s rearguard had more holes than you’d find in your average colander during that period, and leave it at that!

They were initially unhinged inside the first eighty seconds, Albert Riera’s pass for the overlapping Louis Fenton being intercepted, resulting in Mitch Nichols marauding down the left, fully exploiting the space vacated by the fullback.

Riera closed Nichols down, but not before he slipped a pass into the stride of James Troisi, who found Glen Moss racing out of goal to block at his feet for the first act in what was a lively opening stanza, in which both teams threatened the target.

Wellington were next to do so, former Melbourne star Carlos Hernandez thundering a twenty-five yard volley into the stanchion to the right of Nathan Coe’s goal in the eighth minute.

From the resulting goal-kick, the home team opened the scoring. Nichols and Adama Traore worked a one-two on the left before Mark Milligan was brought into play. His through ball deflected off Traore and onto the trailing hand of the unmarked Archie Thompson, prompting instant appeals from Wellington defenders both for offside and hand-ball.

Referee Matthew Gillett didn’t know what to do – the pedantic nature of some of his decisions throughout proceedings defied logic! On this occasion, he got it wrong by doing nothing, and the Kiwi-born striker responded by curling home the opener from fifteen yards, with the aid of a deflection off Wellington captain Andrew Durante.

The visitors responded to this early setback within three minutes. Stein Huysegems did Jason Geria a treat on the left flank before storming past the fullback into the penalty area.

He looked across to find Jeremy Brockie arriving on the far post, and duly steered a low cross towards him for what would have been a tap-in, had Traore not produced the timeliest of interventions to preserve Melbourne’s advantage.

After Moss had spared Fenton’s blushes again by foiling Thompson’s progress in the thirteenth minute, the home team doubled their advantage eight minutes later with a great deal of assistance from Durante.

Wellington’s captain attempted to head the ball back to Moss, but the lack of power and conviction in his execution meant the hovering figure of Troisi was afforded an absolute gift, which he duly despatched beyond the luckless figure of Moss.

2-0 became 3-0 in the 31st minute, and again, Wellington’s ‘keeper was blameless – he didn’t put a foot wrong in the first half, yet conceded three goals. Once again, those in front of him were culpable, Wellington’s defence all at sea as Nichols’ through ball sent Troisi racing through.

The striker outpaced Durante before contriving the most exquisite of lobbed finishes over Moss to put Melbourne on easy street – and the way things were shaping up, they were only going to score more!

Instead, they encountered some resistance from their rivals, initially in the 37th minute. Hernandez picked out Brockie in acres of space on the left as Wellington launched a counter-attack, and their leading marksman from last season duly dashed into the penalty area before slipping the ball through Coe’s legs – 3-1.

But for an offside call against Brockie three minutes later, Huysegems would have made it 3-2 – quite what Melbourne were up to at this stage, only they can say. It’s as if they were treading water until the half-time whistle, instead of dipping their bread against a side which has yet to win a game in Victoria’s capital since the New Zealand club’s formation.

Wellington began the second spell very much on the back foot, as Melbourne earned six corners in the first six minutes of the half. Fenton blocked a Milligan effort on the line in the first instance, while Moss made a super save to keep out Leigh Broxham’s headed effort during a phase of play which concluded with Gui Finkler’s corner to the near post being headed inches over by Milligan, who met it superbly.

After Thompson had been denied a goal by the offside flag in the 56th minute, the visitors began to test Melbourne’s rearguard. Brockie caught Pablo Contreras in possession and surged into the penalty area before looking to set up Hernandez, only for the retreating figure of Milligan to produce a splendidly timed clearing tackle.

Durante narrowly headed the resulting corner over the bar, while Melbourne prised open Wellington’s suspect defence more soon after, Costa Barbarouses the beneficiary this time. But Moss wasn’t threatened by his fellow All White’s tame effort.

Coe came under pressure soon after the hour mark, comfortably dealing with attempts by Vince Lia and Manny Muscat. And after Geria had volleyed clear over his own crossbar after Hernandez and Brockie had combined to prise open Melbourne’s backline in the 73rd minute, the visitors came desperately close to reducing the deficit still further eight minutes later.

Substitute Paul Ifill met Hernandez’s corner to the near post at pace, but found a defender blocking his header towards the target. Now it was Wellington providing all the pressure, much like Melbourne did in the first twenty minutes of the match, and again immediately after half-time.

With seven minutes remaining, another Wellington raid was broken up, and Broxham led the counter-attack, linking with Finkler to slip Thompson through the inside-right channel.

Barbarouses and substitute Connor Pain were racing into the penalty area as their team-mate wrong-footed a defender before getting to the by-line, from where he laid the ball back … behind them!

Wellington responded to this let-off by reducing the deficit still further, five minutes from time. Brockie and Hernandez combined to pick out substitute Jason Hicks on the left, with the newcomer presenting Brockie with a shooting chance.

His drive felled team-mate Muscat, allowing Melbourne to clear the danger. Only for a brief moment, however, as Fenton headed the clearance forward to Ifill, who swept into the penalty area before drifting past one opponent and slicing by another, then affording Coe absolutely no chance from the edge of the goal area.

3-2, and a super individual goal at that, one which set up a grandstand finish with five minutes left on the clock, plus stoppage time. Could Wellington possibly snatch a point from a match in which they looked dead and buried after half-an-hour?

Melbourne’s response was decisive, and was led by Barbarouses. His right wing raid three minutes from time saw Sigmund intercept his cross for Pain on the edge of the goal area.

The Kiwi international then successfully chased down a seemingly lost cause as Finkler’s ambitious ball forward headed towards the dead-ball line. Barbarouses duly pulled the ball back from the by-line for Thompson to let fly, but he directed his effort straight at Moss.

Deep in stoppage time came Wellington’s chance to muster a last-gasp leveller. They came desperately close to doing so, too, after Reece Caira played Ifill in on the left. The visitors’ talisman swept a low cross to the far post, where Brockie was sliding in, but he was unable to get enough purchase on the ball to direct it on target.

It was desperately close, but not close enough from Wellington’s perspective, meaning that when the final whistle sounded seconds later, Melbourne had managed to hang on for a 3-2 win in a match which, had they not lost their focus when three goals to the code, they should have won by a far greater margin.

Match Stats

Melbourne Victory FC: Coe; Geria (booked, 25) (Galloway, 88), Leijer, Contreras, Traore; Nichols (Finkler, 41), Milligan, Broxham (booked, 63), Troisi (booked, 81) (Pain, 83); Barbarouses, Thompson

Wellington Phoenix FC: Moss; Fenton (booked, 6), Sigmund (booked, 78), Durante, Caira; Lia (Bertos, 74), Muscat (booked, 57), Riera (Hicks, 66); Brockie, Hernandez, Huysegems (Ifill, 72)

Referee: Matthew Gillett

Ratings and points:
Match: 7/10
Referee: 3/10
Pitch: 7/10

3. Mark Milligan (MV)
2. JamesTroisi (MV)
1. Carlos Hernandez (WP)