Griffiths’ injury takes gloss off Melbourne Victory

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 10 – 2015/2016 – Round 25
Sunday 5 April, 2015 – Westpac Stadium, Wellington NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 0
lost to
Melbourne Victory FC 3 (Finkler 1′, Durante og 59′, Thompson 66′)

For the second successive week, Hyundai A-League leaders Wellington Phoenix have copped a 3-0 hiding at the hands of Premiers’ Plate rivals, with Melbourne Victory this time responsible for the Easter Sunday drubbing in front of 8,417 fans at Westpac Stadium.

This time, however, it has cost the Kiwi club the league lead. And it may well have brought an unfortunate end to the career of Joel Griffiths, whose awkward landing following an aerial challenge in the 26th minute left the striker clutching at his left knee in undisguised despair.

It will not surprise if the diagnosis of his injury is the worst case scenario – a complete reconstruction of his knee is required. It really does look that bad on camera, and was certainly a sobering experience for all present. I’m sure all readers will join this writer in wishing him as swift a recovery as possible.

The injury took the gloss off a convincing performance by the new league leaders, who opened the scoring just 34 seconds into the match. Besart Berisha’s rampaging run down the left drew the Wellington defence across, allowing Guilherme Finkler to ghost through the inside right channel unchecked.

When the Melbourne marksman switched the angle of attack with a ball into the Brazilian’s stride, Wellington were caught completely off-guard, and as they attempted to recover, Finkler powered into the penalty area and buried a fifteen-yarder beyond Glen Moss for a contender for the season’s quickest goal.

It set the tone for a helter-skelter start to proceedings, with Wellington denied strong claims for a penalty in the fourth minute when Daniel Georgievski tugged at the shirt of Louis Fenton as the local fullback was poised to shoot after cutting into the penalty area on receipt of Griffiths’ angled pass.

The tug meant Fenton lost his balance, and his shot flew wildly wide of the near post. But referee Kris Griffiths-Jones wasn’t even remotely interested in Wellington’s pleas, an approach which seemed to continue throughout proceedings, the ire of the home team’s players increasing as the visitors seemed to get away with numerous incidents very similar to those for which Wellington players were being pulled up.

Over the course of the next ten minutes, Moss produced saves which prevented Fahid Ben Khalfallah – from twenty-five yards, Berisha and Archie Thompson from increasing the visitors’ lead, while on the quarter-hour, Roly Bonevacia fired the home team’s second shot in anger, a twenty-five yard piledriver which cannoned off the stanchion holding up the net.

The game entered a brief lull after this firecracker start, but then Griffiths’ injury occurred, after which Wellington understandably took a while to get going again. Melbourne, meanwhile, began to produce some wonderful, controlled possession football as they stamped their authority on proceedings and underlined their favouritism for both the Premiers’ Plate and the overall title.

In the 32nd minute, Thompson linked with Finkler on the left, the latter curling an inviting cross to the far post where Khalfallah was arriving on cue. Thankfully for Wellington, Manny Muscat combined with Moss to thwart this threat, while Moss made a vital save two minutes later to deny Berisha, after Mark Milligan had played him through the inside left channel.

The visitors’ dominance continued until the last minute of the half, when a Bonevacia free-kick prompted pandemonium in the Melbourne penalty area. The visitors somehow survived as Griffiths’ replacement, Kenny Cunningham, and Michael Boxall both threatened, and promptly ignited a counter-attack, led by Khalfallah.

Wellington’s players – minus Ben Sigmund, a late withdrawal from the match due to injury – beat a hasty retreat as their Melbourne counterparts stormed downfield, the ball ultimately arriving at the feet of Berisha. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, the powerful figure of Boxall got in a timely challenge to ensure Melbourne’s half-time advantage would only be that first minute goal.

The second half began in very similar fashion to the first spell, although this time round, it was Wellington who set out on the front foot from the outset. The rejuvenated Cunningham was their chief source of devilry in these early stages, first threatening in the 47th minute.

On receipt of a pass from Fenton, the substitute tormented Matthieu Delpierre before engineering the space from which to unleash a low angled fifteen-yarder which had ‘bottom far corner’ written all over it until the hitherto untested Nathan Coe turned it round the post.

Melbourne’s ‘keeper’s services were required twice more in the next few minutes, firstly to turn another Cunningham drive – from an even more acute angle – to safety, before smothering a thirty yarder from Bonevacia, in the process of which the ‘keeper managed to injure himself – he was withdrawn from the fray soon after.

Not before denying Cunningham again, however, Boxall and the well policed figure of Nathan Burns combining to set up the Costa Rican for an opportunity which followed Melbourne’s first of the half, Finkler’s free-kick prompting a glancing header from Thompson which Moss covered well.

While the visitors were still getting themselves organised after replacing Coe with their rarely utilised reserve ‘keeper, Lawrence Thomas, Wellington dug themselves a deep hole by handing their guests a second goal on a silver platter on the hour.

The otherwise anonymous Alex Rodriguez’s only contribution of note in this match saw him gift possession to Thompson half-way inside Wellington’s half. The Kiwi-born A-League legend instantly played Berisha through the inside right channel, from where he looked to play in Finkler.

Tracking the midfielder’s run was Andrew Durante, and Wellington’s captain had the misfortune to see the ball strike his shin and roll agonisingly past the stranded figure of Moss into the back of the net.

2-0 to Melbourne, but so very nearly 2-1 seconds later. Nick Ansell’s under-hit back-pass put Thomas under terrific pressure, with Roy Krishna bearing down on him at a great rate of knots.

The goalkeeper got his clearance away – just! – but seconds after doing so, an accidental off-the-ball collision occurred between Boxall and Milligan which saw Melbourne’s captain slump to the ground as if hit by a truck!

The reality was, he bounced off the Wellington defender’s shoulder while turning into him as Boxall retraced his steps after joining the attack. The seemingly innocuous knock clearly affected Milligan, who, like Coe, had to be withdrawn from the fray prior to the final whistle for unusual injury-related reasons.

Halfway through the second half, Melbourne sealed the deal. After wildly mistiming a volley, Finkler pinged a corner to the edge of the penalty area, where Khalfallah was lurking unmarked.

He let rip a swerving shot which ricocheted off Thompson towards the target, striking Burns, covering the post, on the line. Before you could blink, Thompson reacted to the rebound and rifled it home between Burns and the post to give Melbourne a 3-0 lead.

There was no way back for Wellington from this, though they tried hard to reduce the deficit. Bonevacia curled a free-kick narrowly over from the edge of the ‘D’, while Burns drew a sprawling save from Thomas after seeing his first shot blocked by defenders.

Ten minutes from time, Bonevacia and Muscat combined to present Burns with a chance which he directed goalwards. Thomas could only parry it, but with Cunningham hovering to turn home the rebound, Georgievski was on hand to clear the sphere to safety.

Thomas then tipped a twenty-five yarder from Bonevacia round the post, before Wellington were denied a clear foul when Krishna was hauled back by Georgievski as Delpierre slid in to execute the tackle … let’s just say that such non-decisions did even less for the reputation of referee Griffiths-Jones in the eyes of the offended, team and fans alike.

Melbourne looked to wrap up the scoring with a fourth goal in the shadows of the full-time whistle. Berisha sent a header, from a Finkler free-kick, flashing past the post, before two stunning saves from Moss denied both Costa Barbarouses and Khalfallah with time all but up on the clock.

It was for Wellington’s tenure at the top of the table, however, with their conquerors taking over with three rounds remaining, and with the luxury of a game in hand up their sleeve as well.

Match details
Crowd: 8,417
Wellington Phoenix FC:     Moss (gk); Fenton, Boxall, Durante, Muscat; McGlinchey (Hicks, 85), Rodriguez, Bonevacia (booked, 31); Griffiths (Cunningham, 29), Burns (booked, 41), Krishna

Melbourne Victory FC:    Coe (gk)(Thomas (gk) 57′); Broxham, Ansell, Delpierre, Georgievski; Valeri, Finkler (booked, 43), Milligan (booked, 45) (Mahazi, 82); Thomson (Barbarouses, 73), Berisha, Khalfallah
Ratings and Points
Match:  6/10
Pitch:  8/10
Referee:  Kris Griffiths-Jones    2/10  – I’m sorry, but I have serious doubts over his impartiality when in charge of Wellington games
3  Valeri (MV)
2  Moss (WP)
1  Finkler (MV)