Long-awaited first win for Wanderers

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

Hyundai A-League – Season 10 – 2014/2015 – Round 16
5pm, Sunday 8 February, 2015 – Penrith Stadium

Western Sydney Wanderers FC 2

(Nikita Rukavytsya 18′, Brendon Santalab 91′)
Wellington Phoenix FC 0

In many ways Sunday’s first ever A League match played at Penrith’s ‘Sportingbet’ Stadium could be described as a qualified success.

It produced the long-awaited first win of the season for the home side, who remain anchored at the bottom of the ten-team A League table, after a remarkable 14 games, however, a fate that as Asian Champions League winners few might have anticipated when the season began.

It was also a qualified success on the basis of the staging of the game, which took place in a stadium with a rugby league pitch that was in no better than average condition and offering facilities that the novelty of the event might see many oblivious to any concerns.

Those concerns ranged from the fact that the stadium holds fewer than the Wanderers’ normal home ground at Parramatta Stadium, which is an all-seater.

Perhaps wisely, the RBB fan group were accommodated in the middle of the grandstand on the ‘sunny side’ of the stadium, with ample security to deal with any outbreaks of enthusiasm unfamiliar to rugby league club attendees (or so we are told).

The crowd were left to look into the blazing sun for most of the match, which kicked off at 5 pm on the Sunday, the only game of the day.

Some of the players and officials had to deal with the setting sun as well, shielding their eyes most noticeably in the second half.

Many in the crowd had arrived after kick-off, probably misjudging the time needed to find parking or appropriate transport to get them there in time, as reports came to hand that many overwhelmed the staff at the turnstiles and had to be rushed through to even get them into the stadium and avoid any potential for nasty incidents.

Spectators could be seen wandering in via the open area behind one goal, long after the game had started and one wonders how accurate the stated attendance of 12,663 was, given the rush at getting them in.

If parking is notoriously difficult at Parramatta, it’s no easier here where those of us who arrived an hour or more before kick-off found car parks already full and those who came later would have faced a very long walk, or even turned away altogether in disappointment.

Enough of the logistics and on to the game.

The Wanderers began brightly and looked in the right mood to present their long-suffering fans with that win they craved after so many disappointments at Parramatta, where a few low scoring or non-scoring draws had been their best offering to date.

Away from Parramatta it had been even worse, so travelling to the foot of the mountains to face a very much in-form Wellington looked no easy task.

Phoenix had lost their latest game in Brisbane with the last kick of the game almost and were in the mood to put things right, too, never mind the needs of the Wanderers to get their season on track after so many false starts.

Luckily for Wanderers striker Nikita Rukavytsya chose this occasion to fulfill his true role as a striker and show the kind of composure he’s been lacking since joining the club some months ago.

In game after game he’s impressed with his wing trickery, but in front of goal he’s been guilty of not taking gilt-edged chances, narrowly steering the ball wide, electing to take an extra touch or two or hoping others would do the finishing with his prompting.

This time, however, while he only lasted 40 minutes before a calf strain brought his contribution to a premature end, he was on song.

He nearly scored two in three minutes, having opened the scoring for his side in the 18th minute, possibly before many of the late-arriving fans had even found seats or their way into the stadium.

With returning Socceroo, Tomi Juric, taking some of the heat off Rukavytsya, the conditions were ideal for the star man to strike.

Anthony Golec was making many telling runs down the left from deep and Yusuke Tanaka was doing similar from the right.

Wanderers had Mark Bridge and Labinot Haliti in positive mood as well and after a number of promising raids the pressure eventually bore fruit.

Golec crossed deep to the far post and Haliti crossed back in to the feet of Rukavytsya.

The latter had his back to goal and was up against an extremely well-drilled Wellington defence.

Maybe because he’d not scored or looked sharp in recent games he was allowed the room to turn sharply and rifle a shot just under Glen Moss’s crossbar.

It was a true striker’s goal, full of self-belief and intent, in many ways reminiscent of his team-mate Juric at his best, which fans have not seen enough of this season.

That early goal gave the crowd some sense that this occasion would be one to remember, not only for the sun and heat and congestion at the turnstiles, but one where their beloved Wanderers finally broke their duck.

Rukavytsya nearly scored again two minutes later, also from close range, but he was afforded far less room and could only offer Moss a weaker shot that time.

Wanderers continued to probe with Golec and Bridge doing good things on the left, especially, but by the half hour mark the visitors were beginning to get their act together, with the industrious Michael McGlinchey and Roy Krishna in tandem trying to lay something on for Socceroo Nathan Burns.

The drinks’ break taken after 23 minutes must have been what Phoenix needed to rise from their slumber as they more or less controlled the game after that point.

Oddly, despite the sun continuing to beat down on the participants in the second half as well, there was to be no repeat of the drinks’ break, which health and safety-minded people might have found alarming in the current climate, excuse the pun.

After the interval Wellington denied the Wanderers anywhere near as much of the ball as they’d enjoyed before the break and Wanderers, with their goalscorer off the field and Juric somewhat ineffective, looked more to protect their lead than to consolidate it.

They were under immense pressure for the rest of the game, but coach Tony Popovic had two useful players he could call upon to make all the difference.

Nick Kalmar, originally signed as an injury-replacement for Brendon Santalab came on for Labinot Haliti who’d run his race, while Santalab himself had replaced Juric five minutes earlier.

Santalab had dislocated a shoulder some months earlier and his hunger for goals and ability in the six yard area had been very much missed, while Kalmar had been sparingly used by his coach, despite putting in some solid performances.

And so as Wellington pressed on, looking for the decisive blow, or blows, to deny Wanderers the win or even a point, Kalmar and Santalab combined to fashion a second goal and put the game beyond the reach of the New Zealanders.

Kalmar received the ball down the right and with so many Wellington players committed forward as the game moved into stoppage time he got to the by-line, shaking off one meek challenge before squaring the ball to Santalab in the middle to tap home. It was vintage Santalab and perhaps more time can be found for Kalmar in future as well.

Wellington had many sound performers on the day, apart from Krishna, McGlinchey and Burns who showed lots of trickery.

Roly Bonevacia was a constant menace when moving forward and Kenny Cunningham kept things going after he’d replaced the tiring Krishna.

It was just not Wellington’s day, though they certainly played well and should not see this game in a bad light in any way.

Phoenix defensive stalwart Ben Sigmund summed it up well.

“I think that in the second half we did enough to at least get a draw and at the end when we conceded we were just trying to push too hard to get that equaliser and got exposed at the back.

“I’m not too disappointed in terms of the effort and performance.

“I think we did pretty well.”

The final stages were punctuated by penalty appeals from Phoenix and some close calls for a desperate Wanderers’ defence.

But, in the final analysis, nothing was going to spoil Western Sydney Wanderers’ day in the sun.

Match details

Attendance: 12,663

Western Sydney Wanderers FC: 1. Ante COVIC (gk); 3 Yusuke TANAKA, 5 Brendan HAMILL, 4 Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (C), 6.Antony GOLEC;  13 Matthew SPIRANOVIC, 8.Mateo POLJAK; 19.Mark BRIDGE;  7.Labinot HALITI (33 Nick KALMAR 80), 9 Tomi JURIC (11 Brendon SANTALAB 75) 12 Nikita RUKAVYTSYA (2.Shannon COLE 40)
Subs Not Used: RGK 20.Dean BOUZANIS, 10 Yojiro TAKAHAGI

Yellow cards: Anthony Golec 58, Matthew Spiranovic 83, Yusuke Tanaka 87; Red cards: Nil

Coach: Tony Popovic

Wellington Phoenix FC: 1. Glen MOSS (gk); 2.Manny MUSCAT, 22.Andrew DURANTE (C), 18.Ben SIGMUND, 16.Louis FENTON (5.Michael BOXALL 61); 13.Albert RIERA; 4.Roly BONEVACIA, 17.Vince LIA (8.Alex RODRIGUEZ 46);  9.Nathan BURNS, 10.Michael McGLINCHEY,  21.Roy KRISHNA (7.Kenny CUNNINGHAM 75),
Subs Not Used: RGK  20.Lewis ITALIANO,  15.Jason HICKS

Yellow cards: Alex Rodriguez 71, Kenny Cunningham 90+3; Red cards: Nil

Coach: Ernie Merrick

Points and ratings

Player points:
3. Michael McGlinchey (WP)
2. Anthony Golec (WSW)
1. Roly Bonevacia  (WP)

Match 7/10
Pitch 6/10

Referee: Stephen Lucas 6/10
Assistants: Owen Goldrick and James Tesorier; Fourth Official: Chris Young