Reigning champs too good for beleaguered Kiwis

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 4

7:30pm, Monday 2 November, 2015 – Docklands Stadium, Melbourne

Melbourne Victory FC 3 (Berisha 10′, 61′, Barbarouses 55′)
Wellington Phoenix FC 0


Reigning Hyundai A-League champions Melbourne Victory proved too strong for Wellington Phoenix in front of 24,934 fans at Etihad Stadium on November 2, prevailing 3-0 over the beleaguered team whose very existence is under threat after the extraordinary outbursts of Football Federation Australia during the past week.

The competition’s overseers have effectively issued the competition’s lone Kiwi entry with a ‘take it or leave’ ultimatum of four years as a licence extension, when Wellington was looking for a minimum of ten years in light of all other clubs in the competition having been granted licence extensions taking them through to 2034.

Rightly or wrongly, the powers that be consider that having a New Zealand club in an Australian competition is no longer in their best interests, with the Kiwis having served their purpose in helping to establish the A-League over the course of its first decade via two clubs, one ill-fated, the other well-run and highly competitive.

Needless to say, this stance has gone down badly in NZ, with the ramifications of the possible loss of the country’s only professional football club certain to be damaging on a game-wide basis in Aotearoa.

The owners of the other A-League clubs haven’t embraced the initiative in the manner the FFA anticipated – quite the opposite, in fact. “If this is what they’re happy to do to a well-run club like Wellington, they’re just as likely to do the same thing to us somewhere along the line” seems to be the general line of thought arising from the FFA’s short-sighted actions.

All in all, far from an ideal atmosphere in which to operate, particularly for Wellington, whose first match since the announcement took them to the home of the title-holders.

The game got off to a fast-paced start, with both goals under threat inside the first four minutes. Ben Sigmund’s ball forward bounced kindly for Roy Krishna, who was only prevented from firing the first shot in anger by Daniel Georgievski’s superbly timed tackle in the penalty area.

Had the fullback got it wrong, Wellington would surely have had a penalty, something Melbourne should have had in the fourth minute, when Besart Berisha went down under the challenge of Andrew Durante. Referee Shaun Evans ignored the home team’s claims, wrongly as it turned out.

The vibrant nature of the clash continued soon after, with Albert Riera and Roly Bonevacia combining to release overlapping fullback Thomas Doyle down the left in the seventh minute. His cross zoomed across the bows of the incoming Jeffrey Sarpong as the visitors looked to open the scoring at a venue where they’ve yet to win.

The opening goal was imminent, and it was Melbourne who were celebrating it in the tenth minute. Oliver Bozanic secured possession in midfield and fed Gui Finkler, who played in Berisha.

The striker produced some deft footwork to evade a couple of challenges before calmly placing a shot beyond the dive of Glen Moss and into the bottom far corner – a fine strike to break the deadlock.

The goal was a setback from which Wellington took time to recover, and by the time they did they could have been further behind. Only Durante’s timely intervention prevented Berisha from doubling Melbourne’s lead, after Finkler and Fahid Ben Khalfallah had combined on the left in the sixteenth minute.

The visitors’ first opportunity to get back into the contest materialised three minutes later. Krishna put Danny Vukovic under pressure, and the ‘keeper’s clearance cannoned off the striker.

The bouncing ball wouldn’t fall kindly for the Fijian, however, allowing Vukovic to recover the situation and paw the ball to safety, with the untended goal yawning invitingly in front of the Wellington striker.

Melbourne’s response to this close call saw Georgievski shoot straight at Moss before former Wellington player Costa Barbarouses first threatened his old club by releasing Jason Geria down the right then rising to meet the fullback’s cross with a downward header which ricocheted off the heel of Sigmund and over the crossbar – it could have just as easily entered the net.

That 22nd minute effort resulted in a corner, and from it, Finkler fired in a cross which Berisha headed narrowly past the near post as Melbourne looked to build on their lead.

That they retained it over the course of the next ninety seconds owes much to the reflexes of Vukovic. Bonevacia picked out Michael McGlinchey with a super cross which saw the striker engineer some space on the edge of the penalty area before unleashing a shot which deflected narrowly past the far post.

It was from the resulting corner that Vukovic earned his keep. McGlinchey’s delivery found Sigmund flying through the middle of Melbourne’s penalty area at a great rate of knots, and ten yards out, he met the sphere flush on his forehead. The ball bulleted goalwards, prompting a stunning reflex save by Vukovic which ensured Melbourne maintained their lead.

After this scare, the home team piled on the pressure. Finkler dragged a twenty yarder wide of the mark after an eye-catching move which featured Georgievski, Khalfallah and Barbarouses, while on the half-hour, only Vince Lia’s timely block prevented Bozanic from doubling Melbourne’s lead, after Georgievski and Berisha had combined to prise open Wellington’s defence.

Bozanic then saw his deflected twenty yarder creep narrowly past the post, while from Finkler’s resulting corner, the midfielder sent a header flashing across the face of goal, after making a darting run to meet the delivery at the near post.

Wellington were under the cosh at this point, and their cause wasn’t helped when Lia pulled up sharply with a hamstring problem. But six minutes before half-time the visitors were just a tackle away from levelling the scores. What a tackle, though – Carl Valeri stopped Krishna in his tracks with a superbly timed denial.

Right on half-time, Sarpong went close to levelling with a spectacular aerial effort, but when the teams emerged for the second spell, Melbourne went on the offensive from the outset and came desperately close to doubling their advantage just two minutes after the resumption of play.

Valeri picked out Barbarouses, whose delightful through ball sent Finkler spearing through the inside right channel. The Brazilian lured Moss out of goal before rolling the ball invitingly across the face of the yawning target, with Berisha having stopped his run in anticipation of a pass into his stride …

That let-off sparked Wellington into action, with Doyle heading over from a McGlinchey free-kick and a timely clearance by Leigh Broxham preventing Bonevacia from capitalising on a Krishna cross from the right inside the next five minutes.

Back came Melbourne, and within the next ten minutes they struck twice to seal the deal at Wellington’s expense. In the 55th minute, a Georgievski cross was headed clear by Durante, but only as far as Barbarouses.

He took the ball on before unleashing a cross which ricocheted off Wellington’s captain, the ball flying between Moss and his near post as the ‘keeper moved to deal with the sphere’s intended trajectory.

It was a cruel blow for the visitors, but worse was to come for Wellington, as the game was put beyond them by a 61st minute counter-attack. McGlinchey’s corner was punched out by Vukovic, then cleared on to Barbarouses, who hooked a volley through for Berisha to race through from inside his own half.

The striker rounded Moss then lost his footing, only to improvise in brilliant fashion, somehow managing to fire home while virtually kissing the turf six yards from goal – it was a remarkable finish from the mercurial striker.

It also killed off the contest, one which Melbourne could have won by more, and would have done but for some fine goalkeeping by Moss. He blocked Barbarouses at close quarters in the 65th minute, when Berisha and Khalfallah were better placed to score, then raced off his line to block well at the feet of substitute George Howard nine minutes later, after Georgievski and Khalfallah had combined on the left.

The latter was thwarted by a fine save by Moss three minutes later, ten minutes after Vukovic had tipped a teasing McGlinchey free-kick over the bar, one of very few Wellington raids of note in the final half-hour.

Another came six minutes from time, and featured Riera, Bonevacia and substitute Louis Fenton, whose cross was swept past the near post by fellow replacement Blake Powell.

Before the final whistle, Barbarouses grazed the post with a twenty-five yarder as he looked to crown his fine personal performance with a goal, while at the other end, Krishna fired past the post after a move sparked by a Riera interception.

Melbourne proved far too strong for Wellington on the day, however. Whether this fixture continues beyond this season will now hinge on how the visiting team’s owners react to their treatment by Football Federation Australia – their eagerly awaited reaction is anticipated some time this week.

Match details

Crowd: 24,934

Melbourne Victory FC:    Vukovic (gk); Geria (booked, 80), Broxham, Delpierre (Deng, 83), Georgievski (booked, 81); Finkler, Valeri (Mahazi, 76), Bozanic; Barbarouses, Berisha (Howard, 72), Khalfallah

Wellington Phoneix FC:     Moss (gk); Muscat, Sigmund, Durante, Doyle (booked, 57) (Fenton, 72); Lia (Rodriguez, 42 (booked, 86)), Bonevacia (booked, 18), Riera; Sarpong (Powell, 62), Krishna (booked, 38), McGlinchey

Ratings and points

Match  7/10
Pitch  7/10
Referee  Shaun Evans  5/10

3.  Barbarouses (MV)
2  Georgievski (MV)
1  Moss (WP)

By Jeremy Ruane