Cunning Dane too smart for witless Watson

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 20
5:15pm, Saturday 19 February, 2016 – at Hunter Stadium, Broadmeadow

Newcastle United Jets FC 3 (Andrew Durante og 27′, Morten Nordstrand 53′ 73′)
Wellington Phoenix FC 2 (Hamish Watson 22′, 37′)

It was a tale of two strikers at Hunter Stadium in the Hyundai A-League on 20 February, as new Newcastle Jets front-runner, former Danish international Morten Nordstrand, struck twice on debut to fire his team to a vital 3-2 victory over Wellington Phoenix, for whom Hamish Watson also bagged a brace before stupidly getting himself sent off twenty minutes from time.

The 7,120 fans present witnessed a fairly sterile first half, but of the seven chances created, three found the back of the net. Matthew Ridenton sliced wide from the edge of the area in the third minute of play after Blake Powell had broken down the right, to which Newcastle responded via a surging run and cross from Lachlan Jackson.

Glen Moss anticipated this well to avert the danger, and in the shadows of the half-time whistle smothered a twenty yarder from Leonardo after Enver Alivodic had surged forward from half-way and worked a one-two with Milos Trifunovic before setting up the Brazilian.

By this time, however, both goal nets had bulged. In the 22nd minute, Tom Doyle played a lovely ball in behind the defence off the left flank for Powell to exploit, and only the despairing tackle of Jackson prevented him from opening the scoring.

Wellington didn’t have long to wait to do so, however. Doyle’s resulting corner found Watson lurking unmarked at the far post, and he gleefully rammed the ball home from close range to break the deadlock.

The visitors’ advantage lasted five minutes. Leonardo’s driving run through from midfield culminated in an angled pass which rewarded Alivodic’s corresponding supporting run on the right. The winger’s cross ricocheted into the net off the retreating figure of Andrew Durante – 1-1.

Eight minutes before half-time, Wellington were back in front. Roly Bonevacia swept forward from half-way before playing a peach of a pass through the defence for Powell. Mark Birighitti was fast approaching, but the striker was able to squeeze the ball across to Watson, who slammed the ball into the empty net to give the visitors the half-time lead, 2-1.

The second half was a bit more animated, as Newcastle chased the game. They pressed from the outset, and within four minutes, Moss had spilled an Alivodic cross. Trifunovic was unable to capitalise, while the number nine was foiled again three minutes later, Doyle averting the danger after Nordstrand had cleverly evaded two challenges on the left.

Sixty seconds later, the home team were on level terms again with a peach of a goal. Leonardo raced forward from midfield, drew the defence and slipped the ball into the stride of the Dane, who curled home a beauty from fifteen yards for which Moss didn’t even move – 2-2.

That grabbed Wellington’s attention, and straight from the kick-off, a jinking run across the top of the penalty area by Michael McGlinchey culminated in a shot which Birighitti gratefully smothered.

The ‘keeper was grateful to Jackson in the 63rd minute, the defender’s vital goal-line clearance denying Watson, who had been released by a Durante pass and had his sights set on firing Wellington in front for a third time.

Back came Newcastle, Dylan Fox blocking Steven Ugarkovic’s shot after more good work by Alivodic, who was picked out by Leonardo in the 69th minute, allowing the winger to turn his opponent this way and that before fizzing in a low cross intended for Alivodic.

Durante blocked this effort, and Wellington cleared their lines, only to find themselves down to ten men in the 71st minute, after Watson – whose playing style, as an old-fashioned target man, can hardly be described as aesthetically pleasing – hit the Neanderthal button.

After needlessly clattering into the back of Mullen in a clumsy attempt to get the ball, he then kicked the ball away to prevent a quick free-kick from being taken. Having already been booked …

Brainless. Witless. The footballing equivalent of NZ Football’s recent administrative blunders. However, you care to describe it, Watson’s actions left referee Chris Beath with no option – out came the red card, and instantly the game changed.

Newcastle were swift to exploit their numerical advantage, taking the lead for the first time in the match within two minutes of Watson’s dismissal. Nordstrand was the architect of the goal, receiving the ball on the left before playing it inside to Alivodic.

He held the ball up neatly before Nordstrand, whose speed of thought saw him lose marker Manny Muscat, took over and promptly rifled the ball across Moss to the delight of the local faithful.

Wellington were reeling, and would have conceded another goal soon after but for Moss, who saved well at the feet of Trifunovic after he had been played through by Nordstrand.

But the visitors regathered, and after Bonevacia had stung the gloves to Birighitti from twenty-five yards, and introduced substitutes Louis Fenton and Ben Sigmund – a welcome return from injury – to the fray, they produced some lovely pass-based football which had Newcastle hanging on for the points.

Birighitti made a super save low to his left seven minutes from time to keep out a Fenton drive, after Bonevacia, Sigmund and McGlinchey had teamed up to good effect, while in the dying minutes, Sigmund’s ball forward for fellow substitute Kwabena Appiah-Kubi almost caused confusion between Mullen and Birighitti, the ‘keeper retrieving the situation before the striker could capitalise.

Newcastle should have been out of sight by this stage, however. Durante gifted possession to Trifunovic three minutes from time, and he instantly brought Alivodic into play. Substitute Mitch Cooper also had a hand in proceedings, but made a pig’s ear of things when it came to the shot, directing his tame effort at Moss when scoring appeared the easier option.

The eleven men had done enough, however, Nordstrand’s sharp footballing brain proving the difference between the two sides in this contest, with Newcastle strengthening their grip on eighth place as a result of this come-from-behind win over ninth-placed Wellington, whose play-off hopes now are surely over.

Match details
Crowd:  7,120

Newcastle Jets FC: Brigitte (booked, 90); Hoffman, Mullen, Boogaard, Jackson; C. Watson (booked, 66) (Cowburn, 66), Ugarkovic; Alivodic, Leonardo (Kitto, 88), Nordstrand (Cooper, 80); Trifunovic

Wellington Phoenix FC: Moss; Muscat (Sigmund, 80), Fox, Durante, Doyle (booked, 8); Bonevacia, Riera, Ridenton (Fenton, 80); Powell, Watson (booked, 41, 71 – sent off), McGlinchey

Referee: Chris Beath

Ratings and points

Match  6/10
Pitch  8/10
Referee  5/10

Player points:
3.  Nordstrand (NUJ)
2.  Leonardo (NUJ)
1.  Jackson (NUJ)

By Jeremy Ruane