We Are Top Of The League!

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of www.sportswebsoccer.com

Hyundai A-League – Season 10 – 2014/2015 – Round 20
5pm, Saturday 7 March, 2015 – Hutt Recreation Ground, Lower Hutt, NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 2 (Joel Griffiths 79′, Nathan Burns 82′)
Adelaide United FC 0

“We are top of the league! Say we are top of the league!”

So sang the 7,819 Wellington Phoenix fans at the Hutt Recreation Ground on March 7 after watching their team score twice in the last fifteen minutes to overcome Adelaide United 2-0 to temporarily top the Hyundai A-League table after an encounter played in challenging conditions.

An hour before the game, parts of the ground were under water after the Wellington region was subjected to a torrential downpour which, at one stage, threatened the postponement of the match.

By kick-off time, however, the sun was shining and the pitch, though slippery, was very much playable, although in truth, there was little quality in evidence in a tight first half between these championship contenders.

Isaias’ thumping twenty-five yarder, just 102 seconds into the match, sizzled narrowly over the bar but didn’t ignite the match by any means – there were far too many fouls for that to happen, and the sound of Ben Williams’ whistle came almost as often as misplaced or over-hit passes came to pass in a distinctly unmemorable first half.

The visitors, despite fouling more often than being fouled upon, had the better of the exchanges, but while both teams offered their share of attacking cameos, there was little end product, with very few attempts on goal to break the deadlock.

In addition to Isaias’ early effort, Cirio and Louis Fenton curled efforts past the posts, while Eugene Galekovic made the only save of the half in the 27th minute to deny Roy Krishna, after Albert Riera, Alex Rodriguez and Michael McGlinchey had combined to good effect.

Otherwise, defenders stood out, with Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund and Riera impressing for Wellington, while Tarek Elrich, Michael Marrone and Nigel Boogaard did likewise for Adelaide.

Which defence would buckle first became the game’s burning question, with the pattern of the first half continuing well into the second spell. Glen Moss was called upon to tip a wickedly struck in swinging corner from Marcelo Carrusca over the bar just prior to the hour mark, while just after it, Wellington’s ‘keeper was perfectly placed to catch a curling effort from Miguel Palanca, who led a two-on-two attack.

In between times, Moss nearly earned himself an assist, despite the fact Wellington were now playing into what the locals would consider a gentle breeze – which anything below thirty knots probably is in the wind capital of the world!

A clearance by the All Whites’ custodian allowed the till now subdued Nathan Burns to get in behind Adelaide’s defence and set sail for goal. But a superbly timed tackle from Elrich denied the Golden Boot contender on the edge of the penalty area – to this point of the match, the game’s best chance.

Half-way through the second spell, a twenty-five yarder from Cirio required two attempts by Moss to reel the ball in, adding further substance to the likelihood that this clash between two of the top five teams in the league was destined to finish scoreless.

Thankfully, it wasn’t to be, and the catalyst for this was a substitution made by Wellington coach Ernie Merrick twenty minutes from time. Bringing on the defensive-minded Vince Lia for McGlinchey is not the sort of move one would expect to change a game, but what it did was unleash Roly Bonevacia as an attacking force, a tactic for which Adelaide had no answers.

Within three minutes, the Dutchman set off on a stirring sixty yard run, full of feints, twists and turns which bamboozled the retreating Adelaide rearguard, and ultimately forced a corner.

Two minutes later, Bonevacia picked out Burns with a pass which the striker controlled instantly, before turning and slipping the ball through for another substitute, Joel Griffiths, to pursue. Galekovic’s awareness meant he wasn’t afforded the chance on this occasion.

Eleven minutes from time, however, Galekovic was as flummoxed as his defenders by the antics of an unlikely source, whose industry earned Wellington the lead. Fenton’s smart turn outfoxed two defenders on Adelaide’s right, allowing the fullback to get to the by-line and drive in a low cross to the near post.

Arriving to meet it, in between defenders, was Griffiths, whose deft flick guided the ball between Galekovic and his near post, leaving the ‘keeper sitting on the turf as Wellington’s fans celebrated taking the lead.

Three minutes later, they were celebrating victory, because there was no way on earth Adelaide was going to recover a two-goal deficit. The league’s most miserly defence went AWOL as Bonevacia’s free-kick arced into the penalty area, and paid the price for affording Burns an unchallenged header from ten yards – 2-0, game over.

Two minutes from time, what would have been the goal of the season – not a mere contender – saw Wellington produce some scintillating one-touch football which carved Adelaide apart.

Griffiths played the ball forward to Rodriguez, whose pass to Bonevacia saw the midfielder nonchalantly back-heel the ball into the stride of Griffiths. A first-time pass into Burns duly followed, and the striker instantly turned his marker before lashing a left-foot drive inches past the far post from the edge of the penalty area. Had it gone in, a video of the goal would have gone viral, no question!

Having survived this, Adelaide sought a late consolation goal, with Marrone and Carrusca both going close from distance, but only after a superbly timed tackle from Durante had thwarted Jimmy Jeggo in the act of shooting, after he had been played in by Boogaard, who was fortunate to still be on the park after a late tackle twenty minutes earlier.

That sparked another Wellington raid, with Griffiths setting off on a fifty yard run downfield which culminated in his attempt to chip Galekovic from the edge of the penalty area being swatted to safety by the goalkeeper, whose efforts were unable to stave off Adelaide’s second successive defeat to the temporary league leaders, the first time in ages that Wellington has enjoyed such lofty heights in the Hyundai A-League.

March details
Crowd: 7,819

Wellington Phoneix FC:     Moss (gk); Boxall, Sigmund, Durante, Fenton; Rodriguez, Riera, Bonevacia; Burns (Hicks, 90), McGlinchey (Lia, 70), Krishna (Griffiths, 60)

Coach: Ernie Merrick

Adelaide United FC:    Galekovic; Marrone, Boogaard (booked, 70), McGowan, Elrich (Goodwin, 83); Carrusca, Isaias, Jeggo; Palanca (Sanchez, 62), Djite (Mabil, 77), Cirio

Coach: Josep Gombau

Points and ratings
Match  5/10
Referee  Ben Williams 6/10
Pitch  6/10

3.  Durante (WP)
2.  Elrich (AU)
1.  Sigmund (WP)