Wellington held by League’s draw specialists

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of www.sportswebsoccer.com

Hyundai A-League – Season 12 – 2016/2017 – Round 11
7:35pm, Saturday 17 December, 2016 –  Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 2 (Finkler 62′, Krishna 68′)
drew with
Western Sydney Wanderers FC 2 (Santalab 19′, Nicholls 56′)

Wellington Phoenix fought back from two goals down to hold Western Sydney Wanderers, the Hyundai A-League’s draw specialists, to a 2-2 draw in front of 5,702 fans – a disappointing turn-out – at Auckland’s Mt. Smart Stadium on 17 December.

It’s the first time in Wellington’s history that they have failed to attract a five-figure crowd to a match when they’ve played in the city which is New Zealand’s home of football, but those who made the effort were treated to a quite lively affair which either side could have won, had chances been taken, or correct decisions been made by referee Peter Green, about whom, more later.

The home team enjoyed the better of the exchanges in the early stages of proceedings, with Jacob Tratt’s glancing header directing a Guilherme Finkler corner across the face of goal in the fourth minute.

Three minutes later, referee Green made the first of numerous controversial calls in the match, denying the home team a penalty when Adam Parkhouse was tripped by Scott Neville in the area, having taken the ball past the cumbersome defender.

Western Sydney weathered the storm, and in the thirteenth minute, flexed their own attacking muscles when Kearyn Baccus’ angled through ball in behind Parkhouse allowed Brendon Santalab to ghost into the penalty area and get the better of Marco Rossi. But Parkhouse had recovered his position, and was able to stop the visitors’ leading marksman in his tracks.

That wasn’t the case six minutes later, however, as Santalab stylishly volleyed the visitors in front upon receipt of Nicolas Martinez’s well-flighted corner to the near post.

Wellington were reeling from this blow when Martinez unleashed a twenty-five yarder two minutes later. Glen Moss eventually got to grips with the shot, moments before Rossi’s vital headed clearance prevented Neville from getting on the end of another tantalising cross from Martinez.

Eleven minutes before half-time, Wellington looked to get back on level terms when Costa Barbarouses stormed past two defenders on the left before picking out Roy Krishna with a cross which the Fijian guided invitingly into the stride of Finkler. His twenty yard grasscutter sizzled inches past the post.

Moments later, the playmaker – this was easily his best game for Wellington to date – picked out Tratt with another pinpoint corner, only for the defender to again direct his header narrowly past the far upright.

The visitors responded via a neat move involving Jack Clisby and the well-performed Mitch Nicholls, whose switch of play invited Martinez to let fly once more. Moss got down well to turn this effort round the post, with the ‘keeper also saving from Baccus soon after, Martinez’s corner having been cleared to the midfielder.

Martinez came desperately close to doubling Western Sydney’s lead with a rasping angled fifteen yard drive on the stroke of half-time, but they didn’t have to wait long after the break before realising that objective.

Before they did, however, Barbarouses was up to his tricks again, surging forward on the counter-attack with the otherwise ineffective Hamish Watson in support. The speedster’s prospects came to nought, however, thanks to Aritz Borda’s splendidly timed tackle – had he missed, the Wellington duo were through on goal with just Jerrad Tyson to beat.

Western Sydney’s second goal materialised in the 56th minute, a delightful move which featured Santalab and the overlapping figure of Clisby, whose measured low cross invited Nicholls to pick his spot, a feat he achieved with aplomb.

They should have scored a third three minutes later. Martinez swooped on a stray pass and surged forward before picking out Nicholls on the left. His angled low cross to the far post was tailor-made for Santalab to turn home, but the game’s first goalscorer had stopped running after Martinez opted for Nicholls, so missed a great chance to put the game beyond Wellington’s reach.

How costly that was to prove! Within two minutes, Krishna had been tripped by Jaushua Sotirio in the area, prompting referee Green to unhesitatingly point to the penalty spot. Finkler sent Tyson the wrong way from twelve yards – game on!

Straight from the kick-off, Western Sydney attacked, and within seconds, referee Green was pointing to the penalty spot again, this time for a foul on Sotirio by Andrew Durante. Up stepped Dimas, only for Moss to plunge to his right and save the spot-kick.

Wellington’s goalkeeper then lost the plot in a big way sixty seconds later. Racing out of goal towards the left touchline, with two Western Sydney players surging forward on the counter-attack, Moss completely missed the ball as he attempted to clear the danger, opening up all sorts of possibilities for the visitors.

Santalab swiftly switched play to Nicholls, who had just Durante and Rossi standing between him and the otherwise untended target. The fast-retreating figure of Moss looked on with no little amount of relief as Rossi blocked the striker’s shot, diverting it over the bar – a real let-off for Wellington.

How they capitalised upon it, levelling the scores in the 68th minute. Krishna led the charge down the right, before crossing to Barbarouses, who clearly handled the ball on the edge of the area.

It squirted through to Parkhouse, who had been pushed into the forward line following Watson’s withdrawal. The starting fullback got to the byline before delivering a cross to the far post, where Krishna rose above all-comers to leave Tyson beaten for a second time in the match, despite the fact the ‘keeper hadn’t had a save to make to this point.

The visitors were ropable, and converged on referee Green to make plain their views on the handling incident. Upon deaf ears their cries fell, though – Wests would have more reason to feel aggrieved with the official before the final whistle.

There was plenty of fun to be had before that, however, beginning with Durante teaming up with substitute Tom Doyle to deny Martinez a shooting chance on the counter-attack sixteen minutes from time.

This prompted a Wellington counter-attack, with Barbarouses leading the charge and Krishna for company. Just as the Fijian was commencing his run in anticipation of a through ball which would leave him with just Tyson to beat, Barbarouses lost control of the sphere – a golden chance to win the game squandered.

Back came Wests, substitute Jumpei Kusukami seeing his shot smothered by Moss, who denied Martinez at close quarters ten minutes from time after a steady spell of Wellington pressure in which Finkler set-piece deliveries had featured prominently.

Both teams went all out for the winner in the last ten minutes, during which the visitors twice had reason to give referee Green an earful. On the first occasion, Nicholls, having latched onto a loose ball, was felled from behind on the edge of the area by the retreating figure of Rossi.

Green waved play on, as he did in stoppage time when Vince Lia brought an end to Kusukami’s progress in the penalty area, after the substitute had worked a one-two with Martinez.

In between these contentious decisions, Wellington could have won the match. Krishna scooted to the right-hand by-line before whipping in a low cross which Parkhouse looked to meet at the near post, only for Western Sydney’s defence to scramble the ball to safety.

With the last kick of the game, Clisby went close to clinching it for the visitors via a thirty yard effort, but it flew past the diving Moss’ left-hand upright, ensuring a stalemate which had plenty of action to sustain it, particularly during the second half.

Match details

Crowd:  5,702

Wellington Phoenix FC:       Moss (gk); Tratt, Durante, Rossi, Parkhouse (Rogerson, 90); Bonevacia (booked, 78), Lia, Finkler; Krishna, Watson (Doyle, 57), Barbarouses

Western Sydney Wanderers FC:  Tyson (gk); Neville (booked, 70), Borda, Aspropotamitis, Clisby; Baccus (booked, 10) (Pinatares, 68), Nicholls, Dimas; Sotirio (Kusukami, 71), Santalab (Scott, 85), Martinez, Santalab (booked, 69)

Points and ratings

Referee:     Peter Green   3/10
Match    7/10
Pitch   9/10

Player points
3.  Finkler
2.  Nicholls
1.  Martinez