Wellington Phoenix took full toll

By Corinthian (Paul Green)
Hyundai A-League 2013/14 season, Round 13

7pm, Wednesday 1 January, 2014 – Parramatta Stadium

Western Sydney Wanderers FC 1 (Mark Bridge 62′)
Wellington Phoenix FC 3 (Stein Huysegems 78′, 83′, Tyler Boyd 68′)

The Western Sydney Wanderers tumbled to their first home defeat of the season and their first at Parramatta Stadium in 12 months.

Wellington Phoenix took full toll of some complacency in the Warriors’ ranks to snatch an unlikely 3-1 win on their travels.

The Wellington team’s master-coach, Ernie Merrick, bided his time tactically and capitalised on some fragile home team defending to help his men exploit their opponents’ latent vulnerabilities.

In many ways Phoenix were the underdogs, especially as they were without their injured Costa Rican playmaker, Carlos Hernandez, and were then dealt a body blow four minutes before the break, when the key local Kiwi player, Louis Fenton, had to come off, injured.

Merrick also had to replace another injured star in Jason Hicks, putting Matthew Ridenton on in his place.

The Scot then took off attacking midfielder, Kenny Cunningham, sending on youngster Tyler Boyd for the last half-hour.

That move was forced on Merrick after Wanderers had finally found the net, having failed to deliver from a host of chances over the preceding 62 minutes.

Mark Bridge, back in the side again as one of many rotational changes wrought by Western Sydney’s coach, Tony Popovic, showed his striker’s instincts to dink the ball over Glen Moss, following some astute work from Shinji Ono and Youssouf Hersi.

It needed Bridge to be at his best to score, as Moss raced out, but the experienced Wanderers’ player, nominally a winger on this occasion, showed his predatory instincts to perfection.

But that was only to serve as a spur to a disciplined Wellington side, who have become something of a nemesis to the Wanderers this season, who had secured draws twice going into this game.

They went one better this time, however, as the Wanderers, known for their frugal defence, but shorn of star centre-back Matthew Spiranovic on this occasion, relaxed after going in front, perhaps thinking that the Kiwis would not have the resources to chase the game successfully.

They were soon proved wrong.

Only six minutes after falling behind, and four after Boyd was sent on, Phoenix drew level.

Belgian striker, Stein Huysegems, whose finishing ability had looked well below par on his previous visit to Sydney, when profligate against Central Coast Mariners at North Sydney Oval, including a missed penalty, suddenly found his touch. He had also netted once in his team’s previous two slender wins.

With the Wanderers relying on a changed backline, this time including the vast experience of captain, Michael Beauchamp, and Nicolai Topor-Stanley in the centre and wide defenders like Adam D’Apuzzo and Jerome Polenz, the home team seemed mesmerised as Boyd, Albert Riera and Huysegems launched their belated offensive. 

Vince Lia, another experienced midfielder in the Wellington ranks, sent Huysegems through down the right and the import raced past his marker to get close to the byline.

His cross was unimpeded and found substitute Boyd, arriving with perfect timing, to drill home the equaliser from six yards, giving Ante Covic no chance. The Wanderers’ defenders were no more than onlookers, by all appearances.

After that it seemed that Phoenix were to grow massively in confidence and exposing some obvious weaknesses in a hitherto watertight defence this season, at least according to received wisdom.

In the 78th, ten minutes after levelling the scores, the Wellington side was in front.

This time it was a solo run from Huysegems, who to all intents and purposes parted the central defence of the Wanderers as if by magic, there being simply nobody challenging him on his path to goal as he gave his side the lead with a polished finish.

Heads were down in the Warriors’ defence after that and hands were being wrung in horror as the visitors took full control. No amount of hearty singing in the stand from the loyal home supporters could disguise their team’s meek surrender.

Wanderers, in response, could only send on Labinot Haiti for Ono in the 79th, having already put on Brendon Santalab in place of scorer Mark Bridge soon after conceding the equaliser.

But it was probably in defence that the damage needed addressing, those two substitutions having been made with an eye on the team’s busy schedule and there’s sure to be much debate on who to start with in the big local derby against Sydney FC in the next match at Parramatta Stadium on 11th January.

Phoenix grabbed a third in the 83rd to rub salt into the wound, taking their third win in as many matches, in the process, two of those coming on visits to Australia.

If their home form at the Cake Tin in Wellington had been a little better they could have been title- contenders, based on this showing. But too many dropped points and a lack of conviction cost them earlier in the campaign. Maybe now they can pose a threat to the better teams.

The way that Huysegems took his second goal and his team’s third demonstrated just why Ernie Merrick has spoken for so long about his optimism regarding this team.

The killer third goal came from another cross from the right byline, this time Boyd turning provider, with a low ball in that the Belgian tucked home with a deft touch.

There had been chances for Wanderers in the first-half, with Ono striking the crossbar and a few other moments when Moss was lucky not to concede, but once the patient Phoenix found their rhythm there was no way they were going to waste their own limited chances, putting all but one of them away over the concluding stages, making light of earlier squandered chances by Jeremy Brockie and co.

Merrick, the Scotsman with the calm demeanor, was his usual affable self, post-match.
“I don’t think it’s anything to do with us being their bogey side,” he opined.
“We’ve been playing some good football and we deserved to win a few more.
“Wanderers are a good side and they’ll be in the top three for sure and their coach is one of the very best,” said Merrick.
“It was great to see Tyler Boyd score and also see him set one up. He’s only 18 years old.
The boys have never lost faith, as they know they’ve been playing well,” he reasoned.
“Albert Riera is another player who was outstanding tonight. Nine months ago he was playing amateur football so he’s come a long way.
“The boys have been training so hard and this is their reward. They are here to learn and they never give up. And The Wanderers are a good team.
“As for Hernandez, I know him well, as I had him for four years in Melbourne and I expect he’ll be back in a couple of weeks’ time, no matter what they say about him being out for some time.
“We do still need to strengthen our forward line, though, but we won’t be spending silly money, whoever we decide to bring in,’ said Merrick.
“Now I’m going to celebrate Hogmanay. It’s MY New Year’s Eve,” quipped the Scotsman.

Tony Popovic was unwilling to analyse the game too closely, when addressing the media.
Appearing before Merrick took his turn, he paid tribute to the New Zealand team.
“They scored a good goal and we were punished for our mistakes. All credit to them. We’ll learn from this and move on,” he said resignedly.
“We probably tried too hard in a way and we’ll certainly learn from this defeat. Wellington is one team we found hard to take points from, that’s obvious”.

Perhaps the biggest questions will be asked about the coach’s rotation policy.
Spiranovic was sorely missed and the flankers were badly exposed.
Bridge came off, after scoring, perhaps with more goals from fresh legs in the coach’s mind. Ono was also showing good form, until replaced and his spark was missing once he left the field.
Aaron Mooy had a strong game in central midfield, until crucially turning over possession to Huysegems and was replaced in the dying stages by Jason Trifiro.
Selection for the Sydney FC game, a match that will draw a capacity crowd and could be a defining moment in the Wanderers’ season, will be closely scrutinized after this result.

Match details
Official attendance: 14,151

Western Sydney Wanderers FC: Ante COVIC (gk); Jerome POLENZ, Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (c), Michael Beauchamp, Adam D’APUZZO, Iacopo LA ROCCA; Aaron Mooy (Jason TRIFIRO +86), Shinji ONO (Labinot HALITI 71), Youssouf HERSI, Tomi JURIC, Mark BRIDGE (Brendon Santalab +71′)
Subs not used: Jerrad TYSON (rgk), Dean HEFFERNAN

Cautions: (WSW)

Coach: Tony Popovic

Wellington Phoenix FC: Glen Moss (gk); Louis Fenton (Michael Boxall +41′), Andrew Durante (c), Ben Sigmund, Emmanuel Muscat, Vince Lia, Jason Hicks (Matthew Ridenton +46′), Kenny Cunningham (Tyler Boyd +64′), Albert Riera, Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems
Subs not used: Lewis Italiano (rgk), Leo Bertos

Coach: Ernie Merrick

Cautions: Michael Boxall (WP) 50, Kenny Cunningham (WP) 23, Jeremy Brockie (WP) 65

Ratings and points

Referee: Lucien Laverdure 8/10
Pitch 8/10
Game 7/10

Player Points:
3. Stein Huysegems (WP)
2. Shinji Ono(WSW)
1. Andrew Durante(WP)

By Corinthian (Paul Green)