No magic pudding, but sweet nonetheless

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 13
7pm, Thursday 31 December, 2015 (New Years Eve) – Central Coast Stadium, Gosford

Central Coast Mariners FC  3 (Fabio Ferreira 27′ pen, Mitch Austin 31’, Michael Neill 71’)
defeated
Wellington Phoenix FC 1 (Blake Powell 67′)

Eyebrows were raised when Central Coast Mariners’ starting eleven and substitutes were named before their traditional New Year’s Eve fixture took place on the last day of 2015, a match against Wellington Phoenix on the calender this year.

Mariners’ coach, Tony Walmsley, could have that there was method in his madness and certainly that the proof of the pudding would be in the eating thereof, as he rang the changes, leaving out several regulars in order to breath fresh life into a campaign that was fast going into free-fall, before this encounter.

Although the gloss was taken off proceedings by an ugly incident involving Central Coast’s Irish striker, Roy O’Donovan, and Wellington defender Manny Muscat, early in the second half, the home team coach’s selections were vindicated when his team beat Phoenix 3-1, with much of the impetus brought to the game by the return to the starting side of Portuguese winger, Fabio Ferreira.

Also O’Donovan, before his senseless indiscretion, had played an instrumental part in the Mariners’ return to winning ways.

Fitting in Ferreira was the task facing Walmsley, who knew that the player held the key to his team’s fortunes. Ferreira had played off the bench for the previous two games limited to 20-30 minutes each time and was considered ready to start, albeit with a caveat that he might last no longer than an hour. That’s exactly what happened, but it was an hour well spent.

Also Mitch Austin, a big success story of a team that’s struggled to make a regular impact this term, was back after missing the previous match due to illness.

Accommodating these two, at the very least, required a reshuffle.

Out went Nick Fitzgerald and Adrian Caceres, neither of whom made the bench, which didn’t see either Matthew Sim or Anthony Kalik either.

Liam Rose, who later replaced Austin, had to spend much of his time on the bench.

But it was all for a good reason.

Clearly having Ferreira and Austin carving the opposition up down either flank was a huge boost and the inclusion of defender, Jake McGing, as an additional central player in front of the back four, must have also helped improve the team’s shape.

A word, too, for Michael Neill, who’s been playing well this season after returning from a long term injury. He’s not been an automatic selection, but whenever he’s played he’s looked the part.

Here he was an important as anyone, in a central midfield role, and it’s hard to see him being overlooked again, as he has been in some other matches.

The Mariners went into the game handicapped, at least on paper, by the suspension of goalkeeper, Paul Izzo, sent off in the match the previous weekend against Sydney FC at Moore Park.

In came debutant, 18 year old Thomas Heward-Belle, to face the full force of a Wellington Phoenix attack that, admittedly, had struggled to score many of late.

The Phoenix side, however, while reeling from a 3-0 setback in Adelaide on Boxing Day, had the benefit of spending the intervening days preparing for this match at the Central Coast resort of Budgewoi.

They had injury doubts, though, some concerns surrounding star man, Roy Krishna, before the start and also went into the game without the suspended Albert Riera.

As it happened Krishna didn’t succumb to his hand injury at all, but suffered an ankle mishap, instead, limiting his time on the fired to a mere 27 minutes.

Coincidentally it was only a minute later, after former Apia-Leichhardt striker, Blake Powell, had come on for the distressed Krishna, that the Mariners were able to open the scoring.

Josh Rose was brought down close to goal by Manny Muscat, a decision that was queried by Phoenix coach, Ernie Merrick post-match, after Mitch Austin had surged down the left and fed his team mate with a return pass less than six yards from goal.

The penalty-taking duties fell to the returning Ferreira, and it was the nature of his emphatic delivery into the roof of Glen Moss’s net that set the tone for the rest of the evening.

It showed supreme confidence and positivity and appeared to rub off on the Portuguese player’s team mates.

They lifted immediately and so did the support from the above-average New Year’s Eve crowd, 10, 077 a marked improvement on the 5,000 odd who turned up for the previous disappointing home game.

Within minutes of taking the lead, the Mariners had extended it.

O’Donovan made a great run down the right and cleverly gave his marker the slip before crossing low for Austin to slide in at the far post and steer the ball home confidently.

Clearly Ferreira and Austin had proven their value to the side already with those two goals and some scintillating runs down the flanks, freeing up O’Donovan to do more without drawing the attention of Wellington’s defenders who already had the other two to contend with for long periods of the match.

Phoenix fought back and got the goal they needed to put the pressure back on the home side, which had just seen Ferreira substituted by youngster, Josh Bingham.

Wellington’s own half-time, substitute, Matthew Ridenton, made the run, springing the offside trap and crossing smartly for Powell to tap home in the 67th.

At that point the game had been marred by an off-the-ball incident involving O’Donovan and Muscat, way over in the far corner where the loyal Phoenix supporters were gathered.

After what O’Donovan later claimed to be persistent provocation from Muscat, the Irishman lashed out by leaning into the veteran defender with his head, the Wellington man going to ground immediately.

Then players from both sides jostled among themselves in a melee which brought the match officials in to intervene.

As referee – and most of the spectators at the time – had missed the incident, with the ball nowhere near the two men, Kris Griffiths-Jones could only direct O’Donovan to get treatment for his cut eye, sustained around the same time and issue a yellow card to the Central Coast player. Muscat had been booked in the first half and was not cautioned a second time.

Later, after video evidence had come to light, the matter was referred to the Match Review Panel, who have cited both players to appear at a subsequent Disciplinary Hearing.

The game was not over by any means and three minutes after Powell had got Phoenix back in the contest, Neill sent the Mariners into a 3-1 lead with a very well taken goal, also vindicating his coach in starting him in central midfield ahead of other contenders.

Neill stole the ball in the centre of the park and then gave Andrew Durante the slip before finishing sublimely like a regular goalscorer.

All three of the Mariners’ goals on this occasion were finished with aplomb, even the penalty, perhaps showing the more regular scorers how it should be done in future.

But one of those, O’Donovan, may not get the chance for a while, if he’s suspended for any length of time, having escaped the attention of the referee in this match itself.

Central Coast finished the match off well, O’Donovan continuing to play well, as he had done all match, given the additional freedom to roam, but that luxury may not await him for a while now.

Bingham also went close to opening his A League account in the 79th, but his low shot was easily gathered by Glen Moss.

It was a lively game and worthy of the large crowd’s attendance, nothing cavalier about it, but definitely not dour either.

Perhaps the coach has found the right formula now, especially with Ferreira nearing peak fitness, but the loss of O’Donovan for one game minimum and maybe more, could need another radical re-think.

Fitzgerald may be back, while Bingham could earn more game time.

As for Wellington, two defeats on their festive-season tour of Australia would not have gone down well.

They’ll no doubt benefit enormously from having Riera back from suspension and will sweat on the return of their injured men Krishna  and Jeffrey Sarpong.

Tony Walmsley beamed as he appeared at the post-match press conference, for once not having to explain away another defeat.

 “It feels good, it feels like I need to dig into my memory to remember last time. They’ve worked really hard, at the end of the day the players went out and did an incredible amount of work and got their reward.”

“There’s been six games this season where we’ve either lost by one or drew so the margins are pretty fine. If there’s a goal difference here and there we’re not sitting bottom, we’re sitting mid table pushing for finals.”

“It was very resourceful, it was very courageous and they played for the badge on the front of their shirt, not the name on their back.”

“The three men in midfield have got the best engines in the whole Club, we know they can go all day and we needed that, we’ve lost midfield too many times this season.”

“Tom Heward-Belle was fantastic. Composure, maturity, for an 18-year-old it was brilliant, did what we know he can.”

Match details

Crowd:  10,073

Central Coast Mariners FC: 40 Thomas HEWARD-BELLE (gk);  2 Storm ROUX, 4 Jacob POSCOLIERO,  5 Harry ASCROFT, 3 Joshua ROSE;  22 Jake McGING;  8 Nick MONTGOMERY, 21 Michael NEILL; 7 Fabio FERREIRA (19 Josh BINGHAM 67), 6 Mitchell AUSTIN (16 Liam ROSE 78); 9 Roy O’DONOVAN (14 Daniel HEFFERNAN 90)
Subs Not Used: 30 Adam PEARCE (rgk), 23 Thomas USKOK

Yellow Cards: Jake McGing 8, Roy O’Donovan 59, Josh Bingham 68, Michael Neill 90+4; Red Cards: Nil
Coach: Tony Walmsley

Wellington Phoenix FC: 1. Glen MOSS (gk), 3.Justin GULLEY (23.Matthew RIDENTON 46), 2.Manny MUSCAT,  22.Andrew DURANTE (c), 5 Troy DANASKAS; 4.Roly BONEVACIA,  8.Alex RODRIGUEZ, 17.Vince LIA; 10.Michael MCGLINCHEY, 11.Kwabena APPIAH, 21, Roy KRISHNA (12.Blake Powell 27)
Subs not used:  20.Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 19.Tom DOYLE, 6 Dylan FOX

Yellow cards: Alex Rodriguez 25,  Emmanuel Muscat 27, Vince Lia 48, Andrew Durante 59, Roly Bonevacia 89; Red cards: Nil
Coach: Ernie Merrick

Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones
Assistants: Leigh Pigram and James Cleal; Fourth Official: Stephen Lucas

Points and ratings

Referee: 4/10
Match: 7/10
Pitch: 6/10

Player points:
3. Fabio Ferreira (CCM)
2. Mitch Austin  (CCM)
1. Tim Heward-Belle  (CCM)

By Corinthian

Photo: Central Coast Stadium – Archive, Lowenna Rappo for BOTN