Major blow dealt to Sydney’s Play-Off hopes

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 23
5:15pm, Saturday 12 March, 2016 – Sydney Football Stadium

Sydney FC 1 (Holosko 51′)
Lost to
Wellington Phoenix FC  3 (Powell 12′, Watson 13′, Bonevacia 37′)


Sydney FC’s Hyundai A-League play-off hopes suffered a major blow at Allianz Stadium on 12 March as they were stunned 3-1 by a Wellington Phoenix side with only pride to play for.

The vast majority of the 10,235 fans present were stunned into silence as the visitors took full advantage of a dreadful defensive display by the home team to score twice in as many minutes before the quarter-hour mark had passed, a double whammy which effectively decided the contest.

Twice inside the first ten minutes, Vedran Janjetovic had to dash off his line to block at the feet of Wellington’s strikers, with Hamish Watson’s bid to get on the end of a Roly Bonevacia through ball thwarted in the fourth minute, six minutes before Blake Powell looked to get on the end of a Watson pass.

Before a further three minutes had passed, both players had scored. Michael McGlinchey’s twelfth minute left flank raid opened Sydney up like the proverbial can of worms, and when he whipped in a low cross, the defence was at sixes and sevens, their failure to clear allowing Powell to put them behind the eight-ball with a shot on the turn which rocketed into the far corner.

Straight from the kick-off, Wellington swiftly regained possession – Albert Riera had a brilliant game, breaking up Sydney attacks seemingly at will. On this occasion, he secured possession and quickly brought Bonevacia into play, with his first-time through ball sending Watson spearing through the defence.

A riveting drive thundered past Janjetovic into the net at “The Cove” end of the ground, and the stunned silence was swiftly replaced by boos and, no doubt, the odd cry of “Taxi for Arnold”, a reference to Sydney’s coach, Graham Arnold, who was reduced to shaking his head in despair as the league’s draw specialists left themselves a mountain to climb.

Sydney were still reeling when McGlinchey cut a swathe down the left flank again on the quarter hour before whipping in a low cross targeting Powell. Janjetovic was quick to cut this one out, but any hopes the home team harboured of getting back into the contest were dealt a savage blow five minutes later by Riera’s late tackle on Milos Ninkovic, which left the playmaker with damaged ankle ligaments.

The home team finally got their game together as an attacking force in the 27th minute, a delightful six-man move culminating in Rob Stambolziev’s cross arcing beyond David Carney, who regathered the ball before setting up Shane Smeltz.

He mis-timed his shot, while Stambolziev drilled his effort past the post sixty seconds later after substitute Filip Holosko had charged at a Wellington defence in which a restored Ben Sigmund was quickly back to his peerless best – how the visitors will miss him when he hangs up his boots at the end of the season.

Sydney threatened once more ten minutes before half-time, a splendid solo run from Carney, in which he swept past three opponents, undone by an over-hit pass for Smeltz – Glen Moss gathered the ball greedily, having rarely been acquainted with it so far in the match.

He launched a counter-attack which had McGlinchey as its lead raider once more. While Rhyan Grant was able to close down Bonevacia at the business end of the move, it wasn’t the case in the 37th minute, as Wellington extended their lead to 3-0.

Alex Rodriguez and McGlinchey combined on the left, with the latter’s low cross from the by-line prompting Watson to produce the perfect air-shot. Just as well for him that Bonevacia was lurking with intent in behind him, the Dutchman delighting in the chance to steer home a shot which put the visitors on easy street before half-time.

Sydney came out all guns blazing in the second spell, and looked far more secure defensively following the half-time introductions of Jacques Faty and Mickael Tavares – which begs the question why they weren’t on from the outset. (Any sign of that taxi yet?)

Straight from the kick-off, the “Sky Blues” were on the prowl, Andrew Durante forced to clear the ball over his own crossbar after a Holosko raid had culminated in a teasing cross for which Sydney players were lined up behind Wellington’s captain, waiting to pounce.

And pounce they did in the 51st minute. Stambolziev rampaged down the left upon being released by Grant, and got to the by-line before delivering a cross which Moss could only paw out to Holosko. The top far corner of the net bulged from his ten yard drive – game on!

Sadly for the home team, that was as good as it got, for while they pounded away to such an extent that you were left wondering which team was leading 3-1, the dubious quality of their final ball too often undid the good work which had preceded it, and meant Wellington were able to see off the vast majority of Sydney attacks with aplomb.

There were only two moments when they were on the ropes, the first of them coming in the 63rd minute when an angled through ball from Seb Ryall – on his 150th A-League appearance – was only prevented from reaching Holosko by Sigmund’s vital headed clearance.

Sixty seconds later, a lovely move featuring a one-two between Brandon O’Neill and Ryall, as well as Carney, culminated in a thunderous twenty yarder from Holosko which Moss saved well low to his right.

These apart, Sydney offered little in the way of threats on goal, and when well-performed Japanese referee Takuto Ozabe – he let a lot go, which allowed the game to flow far more than is usually the case when a whistle-happy native is in charge – blew for full-time, the boos rang out around Allianz Stadium following a defeat which the home team could ill afford in their quest for a play-offs spot.

Match details
Crowd:  10,235

Sydney FC: Janjetovic (gk); Calver (Faty, 46 (booked, 90)), Ryall, Jurman, Grant; Dimitrijevic (booked, 45) (Tavares, 46 (booked, 66)), O’Neill; Carney, Ninkovic (Holosko, 23), Stambolziev; Smeltz

Coach: Graham Arnold

Wellington Phoenix FC : Moss (gK; Muscat, Sigmund, Durante, Doyle; Bonevacia, Riera, Rodriguez; Powell (Ridenton, 74 (booked, 90)), Watson (Fenton, 64), McGlinchey (Fox, 84)

Coach: Ernie Merrick

Referee: Takuto Ozabe

Ratings and points

Match  6/10
Pitch  8/10
Referee  8/10  – nice (and rare) to see a referee letting the players play, instead of awarding a free-kick every thirty seconds. He can come again.

Players points:
3.  Sigmund
2.  Riera
1.  Holosko

Picture Gallery by Stephen Webb: