Wellington stave off Asian Champions – Just!

By Jeremy Ruane:

with the compliments of www.sportswebsoccer.com

A-League Season 10 – 2014/2015 – Round 12
5pm, Sunday 28 December, 2104 – Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Wellington Phoenix FC 1  (Krishna 14′)
West Sydney Wanderers FC 0

Wellington Phoenix consolidated their top-four position in the Hyundai A-League on December 28, 2014 – but they were made to fight every inch of the way for their 1-0 win at Westpac Stadium by a Western Sydney Wanderers team which certainly didn’t play like a side rooted to the bottom of the table.

Wellington began strongly, Nathan Burns stinging the gloves of Ante Covic with a ferocious twenty yarder in the sixth minute of play, after turning and driving forward on receipt of an Albert Riera pass.

Six minutes later, the home team was afforded a great chance to open the scoring when Daniel Alessi’s innocuous challenge on Roy Krishna saw the striker go to ground in the penalty area.

Referee Peter O’Leary had no doubt, and pointed to the spot, from where Krishna saw his effort from twelve yards parried by Covic. But the Fijian followed up to ram home the fourteenth minute opener.

Western Sydney’s heads visibly dropped at this setback, and they were fortunate not to go further behind three minutes later. Michael McGlinchey’s short corner to Vince Lia invited a hanging cross to be delivered, one which Thomas Doyle wasn’t quite able to climb above and head towards the target.

But the visitors soon regathered their poise, and proceeded to put their hosts under the pump for the remainder of the half, bombarding Glen Moss’ goal with a flurry of crosses and shots which certainly challenged the ‘keeper’s credentials, and exposed the defensive shortcomings of Louis Fenton at right-back for Wellington.

Wests’ first threat materialised in the nineteenth minute, a Brendan Hamill cross which picked out Nikita Rukavytsya. He headed the ball down to Tomi Juric, whose shot on the turn fizzed past Moss’ left-hand post.

Following a gathering of the clans after Iacopo La Rocca and Vince Lia had crossed swords, Moss was forced to turn a Rukavytsya shot round the post, before smothering a twenty-five yarder from Antony Golec in the 28th minute.

A rare Wellington counter-attack followed, with Nathan Burns and the overlapping Fenton combining tp present McGlinchey with a chance. But his touch failed him, allowing Matthew Spiranovic to step in and avert the danger.

What had become normal service soon resumed, with the visitors setting their sights on Moss’ goal at every opportunity. But the ‘keeper stood firm, comfortably saving a header Hamill directed straight at him in the 32nd minute, before tipping Rukavytsya’s driven cross from near the by-line over the bar, after the visitors’ best-performed player had worked a one-two with Labinot Haliti.

In between times, Andrew Durante had blocked a goalbound effort from Haliti, while Juric was desperately close with a classic striker’s header on receipt of yet another Rukavytsya cross from the left, six minutes before half-time.

Durante again came to his ‘keeper’s aid two minutes later, blocking a Juric shot on the turn, before Wellington capped off the half with arguably the best move of the entire match.

Burns, Fenton, Roly Bonevacia and McGlinchey were all involved, the last two producing neat back-heeled passes to prise open Western Sydney’s rearguard and present Krishna with the chance to double Wellington’s lead. Covic wasn’t having a bar of it, however, and parried the final shot of note in the first half to safety.

The pattern of play continued into the second spell, with Western Sydney probing repeatedly in search of an equaliser. But after Moss, in tandem with Durante, had thwarted Juric at close quarters after the striker had been played in by La Rocca’s slide-rule pass through the inside-left channel, Wellington began to feature as more of an attacking force in the contest.

Covic smothered a deflected Burns shot in the 54th minute, and denied the striker again four minutes later after he had been played in by Bonevacia, who himself was thwarted by Covic just after the hour mark.

Another Wellington opening materialised in the 65th minute, one contrived by the efforts of Bonevacia and McGlinchey. Burns was the beneficiary, but he blazed his effort wildly wide of the target, much to the disappointment of the 8,606 present, whose nervousness was evident in the subdued nature of their usually boisterous pro-Wellington songs and chants.

Even substitute Jeremy Brockie – on as a replacement for hamstring injury victim Krishna – chanced his arm in his penultimate appearance on home turf before a move to South African club Supersport United.

But his curled effort cleared the frame of the goal in the 66th minute, after McGlinchey and Fenton had worked a one-two on the edge of Western Sydney’s penalty area, an effort which prompted a counter-attack by the visitors from the resulting goal-kick.

Rukavytsya’s jinking run took him into the penalty area, where Thomas Doyle’s despairing lunge briefly averted the danger. Juric was up in support, however, and saw his shot earn Western Sydney yet another corner.

This time, Shannon Cole’s delivery was spilled by Moss – he had either caught or punched all of the other set-pieces fired in by Western Sydney. Much to the visitors’ chagrin, McGlinchey was on hand to clear the loose ball off the line in the 68th minute.

Still the visitors pressed, a typical all-or-nothing lunge from Ben Sigmund preventing Haliti from capitalising on a Cole pass three minutes later. The resulting short corner culminated in a Golec drive through a crowded goalmouth which Moss smothered.

Wellington’s ‘keeper grabbed a headed effort from the fullback under his own crossbar soon after, while at the other end, a McGlinchey free-kick invited Durante to head the ball goalwards, only for Covic to smother the effort low to his right.

Deep in stoppage time, Western Sydney came within inches of netting what would have been a richly deserved equaliser. A Moss clearance was volleyed straight back towards goal by Spiranovic, and substitute Jaushua Sotirio found himself alone in the penalty area with just the ‘keeper to beat.

But Moss pulled off a stunning parried save to his left, with Albert Riera’s timely tackle on Juric, as he looked to fire home the rebound, ensuring Wellington ended the match with all three points from a 1-0 victory their performance scarcely merited.

Match details
Crowd: 8,606

Wellington Phoenix FC:     Moss (gk); Fenton, Sigmund (booked, 31), Durante, Doyle; Lia (Boxall, 76), Riera, Bonevacia; Burns (Cunningham, 88), McGlinchey, Krishna (Brockie, 51)

Western Sydney Wanderers FC:    Covic (gk); Hamill (Bridge, 61), Alessi, Spiranovic, Golec; Perkatis, Haliti (Sotirio, 84), La Rocca; Cole, Juric, Rukavytsya

Points and ratings

Match  6/10
Pitch  8/10
Referee  4/10 – Peter O’Leary

3.  Rukavytsya (WSW)
2.  Durante (WP)
1.  La Rocca (WSW)