Wellington and Champions share spoils in wind

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of www.sportswebsoccer.com

Hyundai A-League 2013/14, Round 14

7pm, Sunday 12 January, 2014 – Westpac Stadium, Wellington

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Wellington Phoenix FC 1 (Kenny Cunningham 45’)

drew with 

Central Coast Mariners FC 1 (Matt Simon 17′)

Reigning Hyundai A-League champions Central Coast Mariners were held to a 1-1 draw by Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium on January 12, but things could have been a great deal different for the visitors had they converted a second half penalty.

The first half was certainly not something to write home about, with both teams struggling to come to terms with the windy conditions, Wellington in particular. There was a real lack of zip and verve about their play, and for much of the half, they were outplayed at their own game by the reigning champions.

Central Coast opened the scoring in the sixteenth minute. Matt Simon blindsided Albert Riera in the centre circle, and John Hutchinson and Daniel McBreen swiftly slipped Nick Fitzgerald through with Glen Moss to beat.

The goalkeeper prevailed, but his blocking clearance resulted in a throw-in which Wellington’s players merely watched. There was movement all around them, however, with Fitzgerald’s ball forward being flicked on by Storm Roux into the stride of Simon, who lashed home from twelve yards before the home team’s rearguard could react.

The visitors should have doubled their advantage three minutes later. Joshua Rose broke down the left, but upon pulling the ball back from the by-line, directed it behind McBreen, much to the relief of the 7,005 locals who braved the chilly conditions.

They were given hope on the half-hour when Carlos Hernandez finally found a way through Central Coast’s defence, his through ball inviting Kenny Cunningham to dash in off the flank and race in on goal.

The Costa Rican was correctly flagged offside on this occasion, but he got the mix right on the stroke of half-time to engineer an equaliser Wellington’s lack of imagination, to this point, scarcely merited.

Vince Lia began the move with a burst of energy on the right, before feeding Riera inside him. The midfield anchor had been well policed by Central Coast throughout the half, but on this occasion, they left him unmarked, and he swiftly brought Manny Muscat into play.

The fullback fed Cunningham the ball, and he deftly evaded a challenge to create some space for himself on the edge of the area which he used to telling effect, angling a shot across Reddy and just inside the far post to bring about the 1-1 half-time scoreline.

Wellington clearly had a half-time rev-up from coach Ernie Merrick, ‘cause they were a team transformed throughout the second spell.

But penetrating Central Coast’s defence again proved problematic for the home team, who were fortunate to remain on level terms on the hour mark.

The title-holders launched a right flank raid through overlapping fullback Storm Roux, who was allowed to run unchallenged into Wellington’s penalty area, from where he clipped a cross into the goalmouth.

Lurking completely unmarked was McBreen, who headed wide from ten yards as Wellington defenders looked at each other in bewilderment. Among them was Andrew Durante, who made a more telling contribution at the other end of the pitch three minutes later.

Wellington’s captain’s pursuit of a lost cause following a cleared corner engineered an opening for Michael Boxall, who stepped into the breach at fullback following Louis Fenton’s season-ending shoulder injury and performed highly creditably in this contest.

On this occasion, Central Coast’s defence intervened to present Boxall’s pull-back from reaching its intended target, Stein Huysegems.

But the Belgian was soon in the thick of things again, breaking clear on the left as the prevailing winds worked in his favour by holding the ball up.

This time round, Huysegems looked to pick out substitute Tyler Boyd with a cross to the far post. Zac Anderson was having none of it, however, but when the two clashed again eight minutes from time, the defender was fortunate to avoid conceding a penalty, having clipped Boyd as he raced into the area after Riera and Hernandez had opened up Central Coast’s defence.

Plenty of give and take had ensued prior to that incident, however, with referee Matthew Gillett – this writer has yet to see him perform to standards widely regarded as satisfactory – eventually wielding the yellow card seven times in the match, while ignoring a few incidents which merited some form of punishment being handed out.

As a result, tempers were fraying as this stalemate unfolded, and after Simon had gone close with a dipping, swerving twenty-yarder half-way through the second spell, Central Coast were afforded a golden opportunity to regain the lead in the 68th minute.

Nick Montgomery floated a wind-assisted free-kick into the penalty area which wasn’t well dealt with by Wellington, so much so that

Trent Sainsbury ended up with the ball at his feet, though his back was facing the home team’s goal.

This mattered not to Moss, whose eagerness to secure possession saw him clip the defender from behind, giving referee Gillett an easy decision – penalty. That the Wellington players had the temerity to complain about it beggared belief – Central Coast would have had far more reason to moan had it not been.

But after what happened next, the visitors were probably wishing it hadn’t been awarded. McBreen, last season’s Golden Boot winner who has struggled to hit a barn door in this campaign, promptly stepped up and sent his spot-kick soaring into the stratosphere – it was an awful miss, and that’s being polite!

Cue a host of substitutions, bookings and any amount of broken play before both teams cottoned onto the fact that time was running out, and if they wanted to win the match, they needed to make things happen.

Boyd did Rose a treat in the 83rd minute as he dashed into the penalty area before forcing Reddy to tip his cross-shot over the angle of near post and crossbar, and was involved in Wellington’s final attack of the game, three minutes from time, linking with Lia to bring Hernandez into play.

His shot was parried then grabbed by Reddy, just as Wellington’s new signing, Fijian international Roy Krishna, was poised to pounce and settle a contest which the visitors could well have clinched two minutes prior.

Substitute Adrian Caceres worked his way deep into Wellington’s penalty area to leave himself with just Moss to beat. The ‘keeper saved splendidly with his legs, then denied Fitzgerald in the ensuing scramble to ensure his side would emerge from the contest with a hard-earned share of the spoils against the reigning champions, who climbed into third spot with this draw.

Match details
Crowd: 7,005

Wellington Phoenix FC : Moss (gk); Boxall (booked 47′, Sigmund (booked 68′), Durante, Muscat; Lia, Riera, Cunningham (Hicks +71′); Brockie (Boyd +58′), Hernandez, Huysegems (Krishna +79′)
Central Coast FC: Reddy (gk); Roux, Sainsbury (booked 87′), Anderson (booke 75′), Rose; Montgomery, Hutchinson (booked 62′), Fitzgerald (booked 72′), Duke (Ibini-Isei +71), McBreen (Caceres +82′ (booked 85′)), Simon (Sterjovski +79′)

Points and ratings

Referee: Matthew Gillett 3/10
Match 5/10
Pitch 7

Player points:
3. Muscat (WP)
2. Sainsbury (CCM)
1. Riera (WP)

By Jeremy Ruane