Ten-man Melbourne City see off Wellington
by Jeremy Ruane
with the compliments of www.sportswebsoccer.com
Hyundai A-League – Season 12 – 2016/2017 – Round 1
7:35pm, Saturday 8 October, 2016 – Westpac Stadium, Wellington NZ
Wellington Phoenix FC 0
Melbourne City FC 1 (Anthony Caceres 31′)
Hyundai A-League title favourites survived the dismissal of goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen for handball with half-an-hour still to play to record a hard-earned 1-0 win over Wellington Phoenix in front of 10,034 fans at Westpac Stadium, as both teams commenced their respective 2016-17 campaigns.
The visitors were the better side throughout the opening forty-five minutes, and few would have begrudged them a three-goal lead by the time inconsistent referee Peter Green blew his half-time whistle.
Just eighty seconds into the contest, Wellington’s stand-in captain, Vince Lia – five of the home team’s first-choice line-up are on international duty with New Zealand this week – was forced to scramble the ball to safety after Fernando Brandan had wriggled his way to the by-line and seen his low cross parried by Glen Moss.
Despite the scrappy opening stanza which followed, the visitors maintained the pressure, with Bruno Fornaroli’s rasping twenty-yarder clearing the crossbar by a foot in the ninth minute of play.
Four minutes later, Nicolas Colazo loomed large on the right before crossing to the far post, where fellow Argentine Brandan’s header was pawed out by Moss. Fornaroli, last season’s Golden Boot winner, was unable to capitalise on this occasion.
Wellington mustered their first attack of note in the sixteenth minute, with Lia and Guilherme Finkler working a one-two before the former sent Hamish Watson off on a run down the left. Finkler steamed up in support, and duly received the ball, but the burly striker didn’t read the new signing’s return pass, ending that particular threat.
After new Wellington recruit Jacob Tratt had blocked a Colazo drive, following good work by Anthony Caceres, the home team unleashed a couple of robust challenges in their bid to disrupt the visitors’ rhythm, but while these may have rattled Melbourne, they continued to hum as an attacking force.
Moss smothered a grasscutter from Fornaroli following a slaloming run by the striker, while a low drive from Colazo fizzed narrowly past the ‘keeper’s left-hand post in the 24th minute, following good work by Brandan, who looks to be a particularly astute recruit by City.
Two minutes later, Bruce Kamau and Fornaroli worked a one-two, with the former Adelaide United man promptly linking with Luke Brattan. His angled cross to the far post found Fornaroli darting in on the blind side of the defence to meet it, only for the striker’s goalbound diving header to somehow be turned over the bar by Moss’ stunning reflex save.
It was outstanding skill from both players, and they duly acknowledged their respective efforts in a pleasing display of sportsmanship and mutual respect.
The home team responded via another rare raid, Tratt igniting it with a great ball down the right. Sadly, the recipient wasn’t Roy Krishna but Watson, whose failure to do the opportunity justice, combined with the frequency with which Melbourne were creating attacks, prompted Wellington coach Ernie Merrick to withdraw the lumbering target man from the fray at half-time in favour of a strengthened midfield.
This move certainly stemmed the tide, but by the time it was made, the horse had bolted. After Dylan Fox had stepped in to prevent Fornaroli from capitalising upon Kamau’s fine work, the deadlock was finally broken in the 31st minute.
Neil Kilkenny sparked the move, linking with Brattan and Kamau, whose cross arced beyond Fornaroli but found Caceres darting through in behind him from midfield. He raced on and deftly took the ball round the advancing figure of Moss before slamming it into the net from point blank range.
Within three minutes, Melbourne had twice gone close to doubling their lead. Fox’s intervention again prevented Fornaroli from capping off a move which had been started by Brandan’s brilliant back-heeled pass through the legs of Finkler to Caceres, from whom the ball travelled via Brattan to Kamau, whose low cross invited the striker to double the visitor’s advantage.
Seconds later, Caceres’ teasing cross was punched out by Moss to Fornaroli, whose volley flashed narrowly over the crossbar. The marksman and Brattan continued to cause problems for Wellington’s defence before the interval, but the last chance of the half went the way of the home team, four minutes prior to the break.
Roly Bonevacia led a counter-attack, and released Krishna on the right. The Fijian flyer’s jinking run culminated in a teasing cross-shot which Sorensen was forced to tip to safety.
When the Danish goalkeeper next featured in the play, it was in the 58th minute. Joshua Rose under-hit a back-pass, and Krishna swooped on it in an instant. Sorensen raced out of his area, and as the striker looked to take the ball round him, the ‘keeper’s momentum saw his arm impede the ball’s progress, leaving referee Green with the task of reducing City to ten men.
Cue the need for a replacement goalkeeper – and what a to-do that turned into! There was a technical issue – the tape around Dean Bouzanis’ ankles was different in colour to his socks! While that was being resolved, there was a brief gathering of the clans over something similarly trivial in nature …
At long last, the action resumed, with Wellington now very much in the ascendancy given their superior numbers, and the half-time tactical change which did a great deal to limit City’s threat.
But they lacked the wherewithal to genuinely trouble their opponents, save for a couple of occasions when Bouzanis was called upon to show why he was once an employee of Liverpool Football Club.
In the 64th minute, he turned a Krishna shot round the near post following a slick move featuring Fox and Bonevacia. Fifteen minutes later, half-time substitute Alex Rufer saw his low cross parried then gathered by the ‘keeper, who produced a quite stunning save seconds later to deny Krishna in a one-on-one situation, following a quickly-taken free-kick.
Had Krishna opted to square the ball, rather than go it alone, substitute Logan Rogerson would have had a gift-wrapped equaliser . The youngster didn’t hold back in letting his feelings be known – ropable scarcely does his anger justice!
It proved to be Wellington’s last chance of note to level the scores, and they could have found themselves trailing by two goals following the conclusion of eight minutes of stoppage time, with Moss dashing out to save at the feet of substitute Nick Fitzgerald in stoppage time.
But 1-0 was enough for the ten men to start their season on a winning note, and leave Wellington wondering why the Australian Football Federation continues to thumb its nose at FIFA where observing the windows of international football are concerned – their five All Whites were missed.
Wellington Phoenix FC: Moss; Tratt, Fox, Rossi, Parkhouse; Bonevacia, Lia (Rogerson, 75), Rodriguez; Watson (Rufer, 46 (booked, 90)), Finkler, Krishna
Melbourne City FC: Sorensen (sent off, 58); Kilkenny (booked, 67), Chapman, Jakobsen, Rose; Colazo (Fitzgerald, 69 (booked, 90)), Brattan, Caceres (Muscat, 63); Kamau, Fornaroli, Brandan (Bouzanis, 61 (booked, 81))
Points and ratings
Referee: Peter Green 4/10