Late Hicks leveller sees Wellington nab Newcastle

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 10 – 2014/2015 – Round 18
5pm, Sunday 22 February, 2015 – Hutt Recreation Ground, NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 2 (Krishna 68′, Hicks 94′)
drew with
Newcastle United Jets FC 2 (Neville 18′,  Kantarovski 87′)

A late – and superbly struck – free-kick equaliser from substitute Jason Hicks earned Wellington Phoenix a well-deserved share of the spoils at the Hutt Recreation Ground on February 22, as they came from two goals down to draw their Hyundai A-League encounter with struggling Newcastle Jets 2-2 in front of 8,437 fans.

The home team had enough chances in this encounter to win three matches, such was their dominance on a day referee Kris Griffiths-Jones endeared himself to no-one in particular with a succession of weird and far from wonderful decisions which bemused players from both teams.

The first of them came just five minutes into the match, when Nathan Burns went to ground under pressure in Newcastle’s penalty area. The official waved play on on this occasion, and Wellington did, fashioning another opening just seconds later which culminated in Ben Kennedy plucking the ball off Roy Krishna’s toes.

Newcastle’s first noteworthy attack, in the twelfth minute, earned them a corner, which Ki Je Lee curled into the danger zone. The desperate attempts of both Manny Muscat and Roly Bonevacia to head the ball to safety had the opposite effect, the sphere ricocheting off both players before looping into the top corner of the net.

Quite literally, you could have heard a pin drop! How to silence 8,437 fans in a split second! Newcastle’s joy was unconfined, and perfectly understandable, given all the shenanigans which have overshadowed the club’s activities in recent weeks.

Worse was to come for the natives, but not before Kennedy had saved at the feet of Burns, Sam Gallagher had cut out a Krishna cross intended for the league’s leading marksman, and Burns had burst clear following a quickly taken free-kick, only to send his cross fizzing across the face of goal and over the head of the incoming Fijian striker.

Six minutes after opening the scoring, Newcastle doubled their advantage – and if you could have heard a pin drop earlier, the silence on this occasion was deafening. Andrew Hoole fired a corner to the near post, where Scott Neville dashed in to meet it and direct a header across goal and into the far corner of the net.

2-0 to Newcastle, who had only won one game this season prior to this match. And I guarantee that, prior to this match, you could have counted on the fingers of one hand the number of people outside the club who thought they would double that tally at the conclusion of this fixture.

Wellington’s fans soon found their voice. A deafening round of “You don’t know what you’re doing” was directed at referee Griffiths-Jones as he completely ignored the home team’s penalty claims in the nineteenth minute, Krishna having been felled from behind by Neville.

That chant was repeated six minutes later when Burns was again brought to ground from behind inside the eighteen yards box, and the referee again ignored Wellington’s penalty claims.

It’s getting to a stage with some officials where you have to wonder what constitutes an offence worthy of a penalty in their minds. The inconsistency, on a week to week basis, is bewildering, particularly for the players.

Only the timely intervention of Daniel Mullen prevented Burns from getting on the end of a Krishna cross on the half-hour, while the well-performed Michael Boxall teamed up with Krishna two minutes later for Burns’ benefit, but Kennedy was swiftly off his line to snuff out the danger.

After Krishna had rattled the side-netting five minutes before half-time, Newcastle’s lead could have increased still further sixty seconds later. Zenon Caravella fed the overlapping figure of Gallagher down the left.

The fullback pinged in a peach of a near post cross which Edson Montano met with a full length diving header, only to see his effort cannon back into play off the base of Glen Moss’ right-hand post.

It was a fortunate escape for the home team, who redoubled their pursuit of a goal before the interval. But Krishna found Taylor Regan in imperious form – the defender performed outstandingly for the visitors – while Bonevacia and Albert Riera both had shots blocked in the dying seconds of the half, after a Burns-led raid forced a stoppage time corner.

No prizes for guessing which team came out of the dressing rooms champing at the bit in search of goals in the second spell! Wellington spat fire and brimstone from the first whistle, with Alex Rodriguez and Michael McGlinchey combining to play in the overlapping figure of Boxall straight from the kick-off.

He played the ball back to Krishna, who sent the ball careering over the bar from close range on this occasion. Seconds later, he went closer still, Gallagher clearing over his own crossbar to prevent the Fijian from netting after Rodriguez, McGlinchey and Burns had combined down the left.

Moments later, Burns was guilty of the miss of the season. Boxall, Riera and McGlinchey prised open Newcastle’s defence, with Krishna the beneficiary this time. He set up Burns for a tap-in from well inside the six-yard box.

Sadly for Wellington, the striker went for a fancy back-heeled finish, but failed to connect cleanly – ‘twas a real let-off for the struggling visitors, who were already showing signs of hanging on for dear life!

In the 53rd minute, Regan’s towering defensive display added two more unwilling victims to his list of subdued opponents. A timely tackle denied Burns in the act of shooting, while seconds later, it was Krisha’s turn to come off second-best as the defender imposed his authority on Auckland’ giff gift.

After a brief respite, during which Montano fired a twenty-five yarder across the face of Moss’ goal, Wellington pressed again through Krishna, Kennedy blocking his drive seconds after Lee had produced a vital tackle to deny the Fijian in the heart of the Newcastle goalmouth.

Cue a 67th minute raid from the visitors, with Hoole’s through ball rewarding substitute Mitch Cooper’s angled run from right to left. The newcomer sent a twenty yarder sizzling inches over Wellington’s crossbar.

Had that gone in, an away win would have been a certainty. Instead, from the resulting goal-kick, Wellington stormed downfield and dragged themselves back into the contest on the scoreboard.

Ben Sigmund led the charge, his driving run through the middle culminating in a pass which allowed Burns to power on to the by-line before driving a low cross to the far post, where Krishna was sliding in on cue – 2-1.

Newcastle responded through Caravella, who sent a volley screaming over the bar after Montano had again caused problems in Wellington’s rearguard. But it was the home team who had their tails up after scoring, and they wasted little time in seeking an equaliser.

Burns rattled the side-netting, then was denied by Kennedy, who thwarted her first-time effort moments before Krishna sent a twenty-five yarder careering over the crossbar eleven minutes from time.

Ben Kantarovski responded with a thirty yard effort four minutes later, but the Newcastle midfielder’s next act would be his last of the match, an 87th minute challenge which earned him his second yellow card of the game, referee Griffiths-Jones swiftly following it with the red card to leave the visitors with ten men for the duration.

And there would be plenty of time for Wellington to make the most of their numerical advantage – treatment of Neville for a head injury was a significant contributing factor to the minimum of six minutes of additional time to be played in the second half.

The home team tore into their rivals with renewed verve. Andrew Durante and Riera teamed up on the left, with the latter picking out Krishna with his cross. The Fijian laid the ball back to Boxall, whose low drive was destined for the far corner of the net until Burns, flying in in an effort to turn the ball past Kennedy, succeeded in doing so, but put it past the post instead.

When things like that happen, you begin to wonder if you’re meant to get anything from a match. But fate had another twist in store for Wellington, and when Burns was felled just outside the area four minutes into stoppage time, substitute Jason Hicks stepped up to unleash a sumptuous free-kick over the wall and into the top left-hand corner of Kennedy’s net – 2-2, to the undisguised delight of the Wellingtonians.

Had they failed to get a point from this match, it would have been a travesty, because Ernie Merrick’s charges dominated proceedings after twice conceding early. But they have lost their way somewhat since the Asian Cup break, and need to return to winning ways sooner rather than later with the play-offs fast approaching.

How Newcastle wish they could swap places with their hosts in this match! Their season has been nightmarish at times, so this point on the road – which was so nearly three – and the resilience shown by his charges in earning it will give coach Phil Stubbins renewed hope as he bids to ride out the storm.

Match details

Crowd: 8,437

Wellington Phoenix FC:     Moss (gk); Boxall, Sigmund, Durante, Muscat (booked, 10); Rodriguez (booked, 64), Riera, Bonevacia (Cunningham, 66); Burns, McGlinchey (Hicks, 71), Krishna
Coach: Ernie Merrick

Newcastle United Jets FC:    Kennedy (gk); Neville (Cowburn, 83), Mullen, Regan, Gallagher (booked, 51) (Cooper, 55); Caravella, Kantarovski (booked, 21, 87 – sent off), Pepper; Hoole (booked, 6), Montano (booked, 17) (Pavicevic, 78), Lee
Coach: Phil Stubbins

Ratings and points

Match:  7/10
Referee:  Kris Griffiths-Jones 3/10
Pitch  7/10

3.  Regan (NUJ)
2.  Krishna (WP)
1.. Boxall (WP)