Melbourne pile more misery on woeful Wellington

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of
Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 26

pm, Saturday 2 April, 2016 –  Westpac Stadium, Wellington NZ
Wellington Phoenix FC 1 (Bonevacia 82′)
lost to
Melbourne Victory FC 4 (Bozanic 19′, Berisha 8′, Barbarouses 56′, Howard 90’+3)

Reigning Hyundai A-League champions Melbourne Victory confirmed their place in this season’s play-offs with a round to spare at Westpac Stadium on April 2, taking full advantage of yet another miserable Wellington Phoenix performance to triumph 4-1 in front of just 5,140 fans, a season-low for a club whose “metrics” were one of the issues relating to the uncertainty about their licence extension earlier this season.

One has to wonder if Football Federation Australia is debating whether it did the right thing by eventually granting Wellington a four-year extension, with two further three-year extensions dependent on certain criteria being met come renewal consideration time, because since doing so, there can be no denying that the New Zealand-based side’s performances and attendances have been getting gradually worse, not better.

It’s as if the attitude has become one of, “Thanks for the extension. There’s no point in our making much of an effort over the course of the remainder of this campaign, however, so we’ll just go through the motions, pick up points if we’re good enough on the day, and endeavour to do better in 2016-17 and beyond”.

Sorry, that approach doesn’t wash with this writer for one second. As soon as that extension was granted, every Wellington performance since should have been the club doing everything possible to justify the FFA’s decision both on and off the park.

Instead, we’ve seen far too many inconsistent, error-ridden displays in which too many individuals have consistently failed to do justice to the shirt far too often, the only exceptions to this damning indictment being Roly Bonevacia, Glen Moss and the just-returned Ben Sigmund.

Even such lynchpins as Albert Riera and captain Andrew Durante have dropped down to the levels of those around them more often than not this season. That alone speaks volumes, because they are usually models of consistency.

While there is understandably heightened interest as a result of Melbourne duo Costa Barbarouses and Guilherme Finkler having signed for Wellington for next season, the reality is there are a lot more cracks that need to have Polyfilla inserted and paint applied before Ernie Merrick’s side can be regarded as genuine A-League title – not just play-offs – contenders. The dwindling crowd numbers reflect this.

Melbourne ruthlessly exposed the shortcomings of numerous Wellington players on a number of occasions throughout this match, with Tom Doyle’s eighth minute blunder under pressure the catalyst for the opening goal.

Barbarouses couldn’t believe his good fortune as the fullback tried to execute a fanciful overhead clearance, only for the ball to ricochet off Doyle’s face and into the path of the fleet-footed All White, who looked up and instantly fizzed in a cross to the near post.

Arriving on cue was Besart Berisha, who had stung Glen Moss’ gloves with a twenty-yarder just sixty seconds earlier. This time, he beat the ‘keeper all ends up at his near post with the most deft of flicks with the inside of his back heel – a brilliant opportunistic goal to open the scoring in a match in which we would later witness the inglorious side of this most enigmatic of marksmen.

Four minutes later, the visitors butchered a glorious chance to double their lead, Wellington carved open as if they were a tin of sardines by a move which featured Finkler, Oliver Bozanic, Daniel Georgievski and Fahid Ben Khalfallah, who could easily have gone for goal himself but opted instead to set up Berisha, who wasn’t expecting the pass so was unable to capitalise upon it.

Wellington responded to this scare by mounting a Doyle-led raid on the quarter-hour, which also featured a Blake Powell cross which sought out Michael McGlinchey. Matthieu Delpierre stepped in to thwart this threat, but he was powerless to prevent Durante getting on the end of a pinpoint free-kick from Bonevacia two minutes later.

That the captain’s six-yard bullet header didn’t crash into the back of the net was due to a sure-fire contender for save of the season – a stunning reflex denial by Lawrence Thomas which saw the ‘keeper not only block the ball, but divert it upwards and to safety.

And, incredibly, to a goal at the other end of the park seconds later, Melbourne striking on the counter-attack with a lighting-quick raid, led by Khalfallah and the overlapping Scott Galloway, who pulled the ball back into the stride of Bozanic.

Without breaking stride, he thrashed a low first-time drive from the edge of the penalty area into the bottom left-hand corner of Moss’ goal – 2-0, much to the undisguised joy of the pocket of travelling fans who, along with the natives, braved the rain in which this match was played.

Wellington were nearly gifted a way back into the match in the 28th minute when Powell intercepted a pass and invited Vince Lia to hit a volley on the run. Instead, the midfielder’s tame effort gave Thomas scant cause for concern.

Seven minutes later, the actions of Berisha gave Melbourne coach Kevin Muscat plenty to ponder, as the visitors were reduced to ten men. The striker went up for an aerial duel with Sigmund, whose forearm caught Berisha in the back of the head, something the striker was intent on pointing out to referee Ben Williams as he lay prone on the ground, a position he occupied for some minutes.

With Berisha clearly recovering, and players of both sides standing around while the striker continued to milk the incident for all it was worth, Durante approached him, asking if he required a stretcher to leave the fray to enable play to continue.

Berisha responded by kicking out at Wellington’s captain, an action which prompted referee Williams to step in and brandish the red card to the still prone striker, before booking Durante for his part in this remarkable episode.

From being 2-0 up and cruising, Melbourne suddenly found themselves numerically challenged, yet it was the visitors who threatened to alter the scoreline again when the next attack of note materialised five minutes before half-time.

Khalfallah scythed his way deep into the penalty area, working a one-two with Bozanic en route before delivering a low cross intended for Barbarouses, arriving on the far post. He’d have had a tap-in had Doyle not stepped in to avert the danger.

This sparked a swift Wellington counter-attack, McGlinchey leading the charge before unleashing Powell further forward. Thomas saved soundly, then looked on as his team-mates threatened to increase their advantage again before the interval.

Doyle and Sigmund combined to deny Barbarouses in the act of shooting just inside the penalty area after Finkler had picked out his team-mate with a peach of a pass over the top of a defence which wavered again in the shadows of the half-time whistle, Khalfallah’s wing-play once more exposing Manny Muscat’s shortcomings when faced with skill and pace.

Wellington’s plan to make their numerical advantage count for something in the second spell lasted all of nine minutes before Albert Riera stupidly committed his second bookable offence of the game. Cue the appearance of referee Williams’ red card for the second time in the match, with a ten-a-side affair the outcome.

This played right into Melbourne’s hands, and they wasted little time in making the most of the match’s return to numerical equality. Barbarouses and Finkler worked a devastating double one-two which carved Wellington open and left the All White one-on-one with his international team-mate, Moss. No contest – 3-0.

Sixty seconds later, only a splendid fingertip save by Wellington’s ‘keeper prevented Khalfallah from ramming home number four, his rasping twenty-yarder being tipped onto the far post by Moss as Melbourne threatened to dip their bread on the scoreboard.

Unperturbed, Wellington fought back, Roy Krishna’s in-swinging corner being tipped over the bar by Thomas in the 63rd minute before Sigmund was denied a goal from the resulting corner, belligerent substitute Hamish Watson’s battering ram qualities only serving to wreck his own team’s hopes of gaining a foothold in the contest.

Back came Melbourne, Finkler releasing Barbarouses with a gem of a pass in the 65th minute which enabled the speedster to get in behind Doyle. Moss splendidly parried his shot to safety, then denied Botanic a second goal three minutes later, after Khalfallah had brought his team-mate into play near the edge of the penalty area.

In between Bonevacia directing a twenty-five yard free-kick straight at Thomas, and the goalkeeper superbly tipping a dipping thirty-yarder from McGlinchey over the bar, a wonderful extended passing sequence from Melbourne culminated in Khalfallah undoing all the good work which had gone before by angling his rising drive over the far angle – the move, and his personal performance, merited better reward.

But it was the corner arising from the aforementioned McGlinchey effort from which an alteration was made to the scoreboard. Bonevacia worked a one-two with McGlinchey before drilling a low cross-shot into the goalmouth. Watson’s dummy allowed the ball to career untouched into the bottom far corner of the net, prompting a rare cheer from the now silent majority inside the stadium seven minutes from time.

Two minutes later, and after Thomas had smothered a shot on the turn by Watson, the striker was felled in the act of shooting by Carl Valeri, upon receipt of Doyle’s cross from the left.

Unfortunately for Melbourne, the foul occurred in the penalty area, and referee Williams hesitated not in pointing to the spot. Unfortunately for Wellington, McGlinchey’s radar was well off beam, the striker squandering the chance to set up a grandstand finish by missing the target completely from twelve yards, despite having sent Thomas the wrong way.

Thus it remained 3-1 to the visitors, and after Watson had given them cause for concern in the dying minutes, Melbourne rammed home their undoubted superiority in stoppage time with a fourth goal.

Georgievski pinged the ball forward, allowing evergreen Kiwi-born substitute Archie Thompson to pin his ears back and set sail for goal. Inside him was George Howard, and the free-scoring veteran unselfishly squared the ball to his young team-mate to allow him to score his first goal at this level, and wrap up a comprehensive 4-1 victory for Melbourne, whose win kept alive their hopes of back-to-back title triumphs.

Wellington, meanwhile, have one game left in their far from memorable campaign, one which will see them finish inside the bottom three for the third time in four seasons, thanks to a worst-ever run of form which has seen just three wins recorded since Christmas.

Match details
Crowd: 5,140

Wellington Phoenix FC:      Moss (gk); Muscat, Sigmund, Durante (booked, 35), Doyle (booked, 80); Bonevacia, Riera (booked, 45, 54 – sent off), Lia (Rodriguez, 69); Krishna (Fenton, 76), Powell (Watson, 59), McGlinchey

Melbourne Victory FC:    Thomas (gk); Georgievski (booked, 69), Broxham, Delpierre (booked, 62), Galloway; Mahazi (booked, 31) (Valeri, 61), Finkler, Botanic (Thompson, 83); Barbarouses (Howard, 75), Berisha (sent off, 35), Khalfallah

Referee:    Ben Williams

Points and ratings
Match  6/10
Pitch  7/10
Referee  5/10
Players points
3.  Khalfallah
2.  Barbarouses
1.  Thomas