Young players impress for Phoenix in low-key friendly

By Corinthian (Paul Green)

Pre-Season Friendly
Leichhardt Oval, Tuesday 15th September 2015, 7.30 pm

APIA Leichhardt 3 (N. Olsen 38, N. Elasi 75, C. Bizco 89) lost to Wellington Phoenix 5 (M. West o.g. 43, J. McGarry 57, M. Ridenton 65, K. Appiah 77, 83)

This low-key midweek, pre-season friendly, between NSW NPL1 side APIA Leichhardt Tigers and Hyundai A-League team Wellington Phoenix was quite an entertaining affair, though the visitors were mainly using the game to blood a number of youngsters, having played a few days earlier against Western Sydney Wanderers and due to travel to Wollongong for a Friday night match against Sydney FC.

Ernie Merrick, the genial Phoenix coach, was on the bench, but right in the middle of it, rather than at the end, which was explained by the club’s media department later, who noted that assistant-coach, Chris Greenacre, had been put in charge for the night.

Merrick’s name appeared on the team-sheet, but it was Greenacre’s signature that was showing beneath that of the veteran Scottish coach.

All of that aside, Wellington were up against an APIA team whose winter season was already long over and whose captain, Michael West, was making one last appearance, before retiring from the game, or so we were told.

He came off towards the end, having scored an unfortunate own-goal just before half time, but his team had been prepared to give the New Zealanders a good contest and there was no sense that the match would be played in anything other than a good spirit.

Before the game there was a presentation to NSW Player of the Year, Franco Parisi, along with another token of appreciation handed to former APIA player Blake Powell, who recently joined Phoenix and played the entire first half for the visitors.

Powell then made way for talented youngster Kwabena Appiah, who showed how big an asset he will be to Phoenix this coming season, having already impressed against Central Coast Mariners in an FFA Cup match a month or so ago.

Appiah was not the only new Wellington man to show up well.

Sixteen-year-old central midfielder, Sarpreet Singh played a full game, while newcomer James McGarry also had a good outing and the better-known and always reliable Matthew Ridenton played a leading role in the Kiwis’ eventually strong 5-3 victory.

It did take a while for the A-League side to show their class and APIA were calling most of the shots early on; so much so that it was they who took the lead in the 38th minute.

A ball played over the heads of defenders was cleverly run onto by Nicholas Olsen and dispatched past Phoenix keeper Lewis Italiano.

The home side then undid all of their good work when four defenders gathered together in the goal box but failed to deal with a cross from the right by the Phoenix attack.

The keeper was in no trouble but, as the clearance was being attempted and with no Wellington player close enough to pose a threat, the ball inadvertently struck Tigers skipper Michael West before rebounding into the net, with absolutely nothing anybody could do about it.

So, it was 1-1 at the break, with Wellington beginning the second period with far more resolve, as Blake Powell bowed out after a sentimental cameo against his former club, to be replaced by former Western Sydney Wanderers’ player, Kwabena Appiah.

The slender wingman was immediately into the action and one quickly sensed that it would be a much-improved team APIA were now facing after a half-time reshuffle.

Before that, however, APIA’s Sean Symons managed a powerful shot from the left, in the 47th, that the keeper was able to push around the post.

Two minutes later and still looking to take the game to Wellington, APIA again went close, with a cross from the left by Corey Bizco latched onto by David D’Apuzzo and superbly saved by the reserve keeper.

Wellington gained the lead for the first time in the 57th.

Newly-signed James McGarry’s free-kick from the right-hand edge of the box was powerfully struck and found the net, despite a desperate effort by the APIA keeper to get a hand on the ball.

Then, in the 65th, Ridenton hit an absolute screamer that flew into the top right corner from an individual strike from well outside the area.

APIA, meanwhile, showed that they were by no means finished, as Corey Bizco crossed smartly for Nathan Elasi to nod the ball home at close range, in the 75th.

Wellington’s Logan Rogerson was the provider for the fourth goal, which arrived in the 77th.

His lead-up work allowed Appiah to capitalise on a strong run and finish stylishly.

A handball by APIA’s Sean Symons, from another attempt on goal by Rogerson, presented Appiah with the chance to stroke home a penalty-kick.

But the keeper saved it, moving well to the ball.

Appiah, though, was not deterred by that unfortunate miss and made it 5-2 in the 83rd.

Again it was Rogerson who did the spadework, which allowed the youngster to wrap things up nicely.

APIA showed they were by no means finished, either, when in the 89th a nice run through by Bizco allowed the home team player to reduce the arrears with an individual goal.

It thus finished 5-3 to Wellington Phoenix, who will field a much stronger side on Friday night in the Gong.

APIA will face the Western Sydney Wanderers on Tuesday night, also at Leichhardt Oval, hoping for a bigger crowd than graced this game, which was set up with the very minimum of publicity and remained low-key, given the lack of regulars taking the field for Phoenix.

Comments supplied later by the Phoenix media people included some quotes from the team’s stand-in coach, Chris Greenacre.

Greenacre was pleased with the overall performance and end result, but disappointed with the way his team had begun the game.

“We didn’t start very well and didn’t pass the ball as we do in training,” he said.

“To be fair to APIA, they put us under a lot of pressure and produced a number of goal scoring opportunities.

“They were a good opposition for us, but we just weren’t good enough in that first half-hour.

“Once we scored we took control of the game and played well from that point.”

Greenacre was particularly impressed with the way the young Academy players made an impression on the game.

“Sarpreet (Singh) played like someone way beyond his years and young McGarry also impressed,” Greenacre said.

“Sarpreet is only 16, with a slight body, but he already knows how to use it against more physically demanding players.

“He will only get better with experience and (by) continuing to play alongside senior players.

“I think we really have a player on our hands in Sarpreet.”

Match stats:

APIA Leichhardt:
1 Tonu Liiband (gk); 2 Nathan Millgate, 5 Michael West (c) (12 Stephan Adattini 84), 4 Bradley Bartels (6 Matthew Cook 56), 13 David D’Apuzzo (14 Julian Jan Den Berg 90), 8 Corey Bizco, 18 Adrian Ucchino (7 Stephen Kayes 72), 16 Sean Symons, 23 Nicholas Olsen (9 Dominic Cox 90), 10 Franco Parisi, 11 Nathan Elasi
Subs not used: 92 Christopher Moore
Yellow cards: Michael West
Red Cards: Nil
Coach: Sergio

Wellington Phoenix:
20 Lewis Italiano (gk); 32 Tamupiwa Dimairo (2 Manny Muscat 64), 19 Tom Doyle (c), 8 Alex Rodriguez, 28 Joel Stevens; 44 Logan Rogerson, 34 Sarpreet Singh, 23 Matthew Ridenton, 14 Alex Rufer; 33 James McGarry, 12 Blake Powell (11 Kwabena Appiah 46)
Subs Not Used: 1 Glen Moss, 30 Oliver Sail, 31 Andrew Blake, 7 Jeffrey Sarpong, 13 Albert Riera, 17 Vince Lia, 4 Roly Bonevacia, 21 Roy Krishna, 18 Ben Sigmund, 22 Andrew Durante, 16 Louis Fenton, 10 Michael McGlinchey
Acting coach: Chris Greenacre
Yellow cards:
Red Cards: Nil

Referee: Stephen Lucas
Assistants Mitch Clark and Daniel Stack

Match: 7/10

Pitch: 8/10

Weather: Mild, dry, moderate breeze

Crowd: Approx 150

Players noted: Nicholas Olsen (ALT), Franco Parisi (ALT), James McGarry (WP), Matthew Ridenton (WP), Kwabena Appiah (WP), Sarpreet Singh (WP)

By Corinthian (Paul Green)