Wellington stun Champions on North Harbour sandpit

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

Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 9
7:15pm, Saturday 5 December, 2015 – North Harbour Stadium (aka QBE Stadium), Auckland

Wellington Phoenix FC 2 (Roy Krishna 18′, Roly Bonevacia 44′)
Melbourne Victory FC 0

Wellington Phoenix upset Hyundai A-League leaders Melbourne Victory 2-0 at Auckland’s QBE Stadium on December 5, holding off a strong second half onslaught from the table-toppers to record a victory which was merited on the home team’s first half showing.

The opening stages of the match were heavily influenced by the awful playing surface, with playmakers requiring a sand wedge to be effective, so heavily sanded was the pitch, which has been ruined by a re-sowing issue following the conclusion of a season which saw this same ground host the FIFA U-20 World Cup Final.

It certainly shouldn’t have hosted a fixture of this magnitude, of that be in no doubt. And the game should have attracted far more than the 10,852 die-hard fans who made a trip which, if you live in East or South Auckland, can take anywhere up to two hours to complete, one way.

Both location and layout-wise, QBE Stadium is the least user-friendly of all New Zealand’s major sports grounds, and attracting the casual fan to make the journey north requires a lot of effort on the part of promoters, particularly when the option of watching the game live on television is available.

Following a cagey start to proceedings, the poor pitch mattered not in the thirteenth minute – instead, referee Alan Milliner was the centre of attention. Leigh Broxham fouled Michael McGlinchey inside the ‘D’, and the referee rightly called for a foul.

Seconds later, Wellington took a quick free-kick while Melbourne players were remonstrating with the official, who promptly ruled out Roly Bonevacia’s strike on the grounds that he hadn’t signalled that the kick could be taken.

When the referee eventually gave Wellington the green light, McGlinchey unleashed a free-kick which arced over the wall and narrowly past the far post, much to the relief of Danny Vukovic, who would have been well beaten had the effort been on target.

He was beaten all ends up at his near post four minutes later, however, as Wellington opened the scoring. An attempted back-pass struck Roy Krishna, who instantly chased after the rebound, then lost control of the ball before regathering it near the by-line.

From a nigh on ridiculous angle, he somehow threaded a shot between the advancing figure of Vukovic and the ‘keeper’s near post, the ball crossing the line before Jason Geria’s attempt to clear it sent the sphere soaring into the roof of the net – 1-0 to the home team, to the undisguised delight of those present.

Over the course of the next ten minutes, referee Milliner just about managed to keep a lid on proceedings as things threatened to get out of control. Needless to say, the human incendiary device which is Melbourne’s Besart Berisha was central to much of the controversy, and it was no surprise to see him pick up the game’s first yellow card, with Andrew Durante and Alex Rodriguez joining him in this regard following separate challenges soon after.

Once tempers had calmed a tad, Melbourne produced their first attack of consequence in the 33rd minute. Costa Barbarouses worked a one-two with Berisha which allowed the All White to angle a low cross in towards the edge of the penalty area.

Louis Fenton was as slow as a wet week in dealing with the danger – a fullback he is not! – and this was amplified when Fahid Ben Khalfallah appeared on the scene. Fortunately for Wellington, the winger lost control of the ball, and the threat was quickly contained.

Two minutes later, the fast-charging figure of McGlinchey won the ball for Krishna’s benefit, and kept on running. The Fijian flyer played the ball on into his team-mate’s stride, and the number ten promptly steered it across to Bonevacia, who produced some brilliant skill and a pirouette to beat two players on the edge of the area, only to see his resulting shot superbly turned round the post by Vukovic.

From the subsequent corner, McGlinchey drove a low cross into the goalmouth which Tom Doyle fired over from ten yards, his shot on a par with his defensive effort, which was nothing to write home about.

The only save Glen Moss was called upon to make in the first half materialised eight minutes before the interval, when he was right behind a Khalfallah drive after the winger had cut inside off the left flank.

That was as close as Melbourne got in the first forty-five minutes, but right on the stroke of half-time the visitors were dealt a body blow by Wellington, as the home team’s attacking trio combined once again.

Krishna was gifted possession by Barbarouses – one can’t help but think that the grey kit Wellington employed was a factor in Melbourne’s passing inaccuracies in this match – and promptly set sail downfield from half-way.

Opponents held off challenging the quick-silver front-runner, who had McGlinchey steaming up in support to his left – he had a terrific game. Upon receipt of Krishna’s pass, he took the ball on before delivering a low cross into the goalmouth, where the Fijian was arriving.

He couldn’t capitalise on the chance, but Bonevacia, following in behind him, was perfectly placed to pick up the pieces and put them away – 2-0, the last act of note of the first half at a venue which last hosted A-League football when the NZ Knights were in operation.

Melbourne’s players clearly copped a bit of an earful from coach Kevin Muscat during the interval, because from the moment the second half began, they threw everything but the kitchen sink at Moss’ goal.

But Wellington’s ‘keeper, on the occasion of his one hundredth A-League appearance for the club, stood firm, producing a string of saves to keep a clean sheet and ensure his team would be a key factor in any review of this round’s action.

Just five minutes after play resumed, Oliver Bozanic and Khalfallah worked a one-two on the left which saw the midfielder’s initial cross blocked to safety by Durante. Bozanic was soon in possession again, however, but shot tamely at Moss, who was beaten five minutes later by Berisha’s deft touch to divert Khalfallah’s shot goalwards.

The offside flag came to Wellington’s rescue on this occasion, unlike the two-man defensive wall which faced a Guilherme Finkler free-kick from the left-hand edge of the penalty area in the 57th minute.

Talk about parting like the Red Sea! Moss went ballistic at the duo concerned after they had stepped aside, allowing Finkler’s set-piece to career between the pair of them and crash into the side-netting by the near post – ‘twas a near thing for the home team, and not their last.

Melbourne kept on coming. On the hour, Khalfallah and Berisha combined for Finkler, whose twenty yard volley was battered away by Moss. Khalfallah latched onto the rebound, and produced a delightful piece of skill to evade a challenge and get to the by-line inside the goal area, but he was eventually thwarted by sheer weight of numbers.

Two minutes later, Doyle dived in at Barbarouses, who easily side-stepped the challenge and engineered a move which culminated in Moss thwarting Berisha with a vital block at close quarters.

A corner resulted, with Finkler picking out Matthieu Delpierre with his delivery. Quite how Moss kept the ball out only he will know, but he did, much to Melbourne’s frustration. As they regrouped for another attempt to get back into the match, Krishna combined with Bonevacia to remind all present that Vukovic was still on the park – this was the first time he’d touched the ball in the half, as all the action had been at the other end of the ground.

Still Melbourne pressed, Moss and Manny Muscat combining to thwart Berisha at close quarters after the ‘keeper had confidently risen to catch a cross, only for the ball to bounce out of his hands as it hit the head of Alex Rodriguez, who was beneath Moss as he descended.

The midfielder made amends for his contribution to proceedings seconds later, stepping in to thwart Bozanic as Melbourne maintained their siege on Wellington’s goal, which lost vital momentum soon after following the combination of treatment for a knock – Albert Riera was taken out by Geria – and the departure from the fray of referee Milliner.

Moments after Bonevacia had fired one narrowly past the post after good target-man play by Krishna, the official pulled up lame, clutching at his hamstring. He went to the side-line to get it strapped, but lasted barely fifteen seconds before calling it a day and handing over the refereeing duties to fourth official Alex King for the duration.

The visitors struggled to get going again after these twin stoppages, with their last chance of note coming seven minutes from time, Khalfallah heading wide from a Finkler free-kick which had been flicked on by Delpierre.

Wellington had gone close to increasing their lead five minutes prior. Krishna was again the key – his pace was always a threat in this match, but so, too, was that of McGlinchey, whose darting angled run through the middle was rewarded by a pass from Krishna. Broxham read the danger, however, and 2-0 the scoreline remained.

As it did through to the final whistle, which brought to an end a contest which would have benefited greatly from a quality playing surface – how Melbourne must have wished they could have played this match on the Kiwitea Street pitch on which they trained twenty-four hours prior to this fixture, or at Eden Park, Wellington’s usual choice of venue in Auckland, which was unavailable due to cricket commitments.

In truth, anywhere would have been better than the North Harbour Sandpit! It will take a considerable amount of work – and certainly a ground closure of a fair few weeks’ duration – to get this ground back to an acceptable standard. Right now, it’s not fit for football.

Match details

Crowd: 10,852

Wellington Phoenix FC:       Moss (gk) (booked, 87); Fenton, Durante (booked, 23), Muscat (booked, 56), Doyle; Rodriguez (booked, 26), Riera, Lia; Bonevacia (booked, 58) (Rufer, 89), Krishna (Sigmund, 90), McGlinchey (Sarpong, 85)
Coach: Ernie Merrick

Melbourne Victory FC:       Vukovic (gk); Geria (booked, 70), Broxham, Delpierre, Georgievski; Mahazi (Pain, 87), Finkler, Bozanic; Barbarouses (booked, 90), Berisha (booked, 22), Khalfallah
Coach: Kevin Muscat

Ratings and points

Referee:            Alan Milliner (Alex King, 75) – (given the substitution  4/10

Match  6/10
Pitch  0/10, but 6 out of ten for similarities to a beach!

3.  Moss (WP)
2.  McGlinchey (WP)
1.  Krishna (WP)
By Jeremy Ruane