Close run Victory at Parramatta
By Corinthian (Paul Green):
Hyundai A-League – Season 10 – 2014/2015 – Round 14
7:30pm, Tuesday 6th January 2015 – Parramatta Stadium
Western Sydney Wanderers FC 1 (Nick Kalmar 55′)
Melbourne Victory FC 2 (Carl Valeri 26′, Gui Finkler 80′)
This final game before the Asian Cup break was billed as a must-win match for both teams, but it was also seen as a top v bottom clash in many people’s minds, as well and it was certainly not one of those animals at all.
Given the potential of both teams, even allowing for the absence of Socceroo representatives from either squad, it was, in truth, a top-of-the table encounter, based on the quality of the game and on what both coaches had to say at the end of it all.
Make no mistake this was a cracking game and a great advertisement for the A League.
Western Sydney Wanderers got nothing from the game at all, points-wise at least, their position at the foot of the ladder as woeful as ever, statistically, while Melbourne Victory, winners here by 2-1 in a match they barely edged enough to call their own, continue to push the leaders hard for top honours.
But the Wanderers, who have lacked confidence at various stages in the last few weeks, looked likely winners at several stages of the game, coming from a goal down to level early in the second-half and then being caught out at the back, toward the end, when pushing hard for the winner they were entitled to think they deserved, or at least could achieve.
It was a match punctuated by three fine goals, with both sides showing signs that they’ll be among the major crowd-pullers after the three-week break.
Wanderers’ coach, Tony Popovic, gave his players the week off and could not fault them on their performance.
Only in their response-times and decision-making in the penalty area, at either end of the field, did they display their vulnerability.
To miss golden chances, due to a lack of confidence or composure and to concede goals through momentary lapses of organisation or concentration, showed their lack of a winning mentality over the season, with all the distractions of a successful Asian Champions League campaign getting in the way of any built-up momentum or cohesion.
The second-half of the season could and even should be a lot different, though both Wanderers’ fans and their team’s coach have been expecting that improvement to come much sooner.
Popovic, though, has been pleased with the progress his team has been making in many of their recent games, not scoring enough goals being their major downfall allied with his difficulty in establishing a predictable starting line-up.
In this match, leaving aside for a moment the intelligent work by most members of the Melbourne Victory side, who were clearly for the most part a well-oiled machine, Wanderers are beginning to look like something closer to the finished article now.
The signing of former Melbourne City midfielder, Nick Kalmar, may be a significant turning point for them, as his creativity and coolness on the ball, gives the side more confidence going forward and allows for more options than they had before his arrival.
He played an hour against the Mariners in his first game and showed up well, getting about another 15 minutes this time and coming off when, on the face of it, he was still playing very effectively.
Clearly the coach knew his limitations and the extra three weeks of training with his new team can only be beneficial, fitness-wise.
Mark Bridge worked as hard as ever, but the revelation on this occasion was another relatively recent signing, Nikita Rukavytsya, who was always prepared to run at defenders throughout the game and got past his man almost every time he tried.
His only fault was poor delivery, perhaps due to operating on the right, when more familiar down the left.
He had chances to score, too, so perhaps the role of winger did him no favours, at least down that right side.
But his footwork and change of pace was too much for his markers and he showed that to good effect in both halves of the game.
He probably should have scored at least once, but after his team had begun the game well, early misses by him or his attacking partners meant that Victory were able to work their way better into the match.
In Kosta Barbarouses, they had a player, wide on the right, who was completely at home out there and hardly lacking in potential targets for his passes and crosses.
Rukavytsya, by contrast, had Bridge on the opposite flank and, in the absence of Socceroo Tomi Juric, only the out-of-touch Labinot Haliti and deeper-lying Kalmar to aim for.
Haliti can be a little mercurial at times though he is a proven scorer, but his sharpness in front of goal at the moment is lacking. Kalmar on the other hand is already equipped to do the job and is in no way short of self-belief.
Melbourne, though, had Gui Finkler and Carl Valeri showing all the swagger they’re known for and with the aggressive Besart Berisha ahead of them all, Victory showed no shortage of thrust.
Barbarouses was carving them up down the right and Fahid Ben Khalfallah was doing much the same down the left. It was hard to separate them in terms of impact or skill, both giving the Wanderers’ defenders a torrid time.
Just when it looked as if the Wanderers might be able to grind on and get an opening goal, the place fell silent when a clever ball, crossed in by Finkler from the right, was cleared hastily by the home defence and sat up nicely for Valeri.
Not a noted striker of the ball, though probably more likely to score from distance than from close-in, Valeri unleashed a magical and unstoppable strike,a first-time volley from just outside the area.
The shot was absolutely top drawer and gave Victory the lead, perhaps even against their own expectations.
Under the circumstances many may have expected Wanderers to wilt, but roared on by their partisan supporters they showed enough will-to-win and sheer motivation and industry to fashion an equaliser, albeit after the break of a first-half which seemed over in a flash, so absorbing had the play been to that point.
Kalmar played an exchange of passes with co-conspirator, Rukavytsya, in the 55th, before finding himself in scoring range and unleashing a precision shot that beat Nathan Coe easily.
At 1-1 Wanderers sensed that this might at last be their day.
But, once again, a lack of assurance in the final third, or at least in the six-yard box, robbed them of any chance to go on and win the match.
Rukavytsya made another of his trademark surging runs down the right in the 56th, only to see his attempt cleared to safety at the far post, for the lack of a fitting finish from a Wanderers’ player.
The Victory team showed the necessary patience and once Kalmar had left the scene it became harder to see Wanderers winning. Perhaps they’d hold on for a draw yet again?
They couldn’t do it, however, as Finkler was on hand to tidy up after Wanderers’ keeper, Ante Covic, had taken on Berisha, parrying his effort from close-range, after further good work out wide by the impressive Khalfallah in the 80th.
A top save from Nathan Coe denied the home team a potential point, in the 87th, as the keeper managed to block an encouraging effort from ten yards by substitute, Steve Kuzmanovski, who had only come on a minute earlier.
Kalmar’s replacement, Jaushua Sotirio, was also given 20 minutes and showed some good touches, but Wanderers’ fans were again left disappointed with the outcome, but definitely not the effort.
Kevin Muscat commented that the Wanderers were a top side and would win more than they lost in the second half of the season and would be right up there.
Popovic said he could ask no more from his team and there was no sense of the team feeling unlucky or hard done by, when they come off the field, they just want to make it happen and eventually it will.
Western Sydney Wanderers FC: 1. Ante COVIC (gk); 2.Shannon COLE, 5.Brendan HAMILL, 4 Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (C), 6.Antony GOLEC; 8.Mateo POLJAK, 15.Yianni PERKATIS (23.Jason TRIFIRO 61); 33 Nick KALMAR 16 (Jaushua SOTIRO 73), 19.Mark BRIDGE, 7.Labinot HALITI (38 Steve KUZMANOVSKI 87), 12 Nikita RUKAVYTSYA
Subs Not Used: RGK 20.Dean BOUZANIS, 32 Daniel Alessi,
Yellow cards: Mateo Poljak 56, Antony Golec 58; Red cards: Nil
Coach: Tony Popovic
Melbourne Victory FC: 1.Nathan COE (gk); 18. Dylan MURNANE (15 Daniel GEORGEVSKI 46), 4. Nick ANSELL, 6.Leigh BROXHAM (C), 24. Scott GALLOWAY; 21.Carl VALERI, 22.Jesse MAKAROUNAS (16 Rashid MAHAZI 65); 7. Gui FINKLER; 9. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8.Besart BERISHA (13. Andrew NABBOUT 89), 14 Fahid Ben KHALIFALLAH
Subs not used: RGK 20.Lawrence THOMAS, 11. Connor PAIN
Yellow cards: Daniel Georgievski 74, Nick Ansell 82; Red cards: Nil
Coach: Kevin Muscat
Points and ratings
Referee: Alan Miliner 7/10
3. Kosta Barbarouses (MV)
2. Fahid Ben Khalfallah (MV)
1. Nick Kalmar (WSW)