Wellington wallop Central Coast after Merrick resigns

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

Hyundai A-League – Season 12 – 2016/2017 – Round 10
7:35pm, Saturday 10 December, 2016 –  Waikato Stadium, Hamilton NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 3 (Watson 2′, Lia 66′, Krishna 90’+5)
Central Coast Mariners FC 0

Ernie Merrick resigned as coach of Wellington Phoenix during the week, a move which came as a shock to many, not least the players whom he was guiding in this Hyundai A-League campaign.

They swiftly realised that it was ultimately they, not their coach, who were responsible for the position bottom-placed Wellington found themselves in, so it was with some trepidation that Central Coast Mariners fronted up at Hamilton’s FMG Stadium on 10 December, anticipating a backlash from their wounded opponents.

They got one, Wellington romping to a 3-0 victory which flattered the visitors, who enjoyed plenty of possession but offered very little in the way of penetrative attacking manoeuvres, unlike their opponents, who set the tone of the evening’s action straight from the kick-off.

Indeed, it took just 79 seconds for Wellington to make known how much they were collectively hurting over Merrick’s departure, as that was all the time it took for them to take the lead.

Roly Bonevacia picked out Costa Barbarouses on half-way, and the speedster promptly stormed downfield without being challenged. He let rip from the edge of the penalty area, the ball deflecting in off the recalled Hamish Watson to leave Ivan Necevski completely wrong-footed – 1-0 Wellington, and a dream start for stand-in coaching duo Chris Greenacre and Des Buckingham.

Central Coast were stunned, and while they looked to respond via raids down both flanks early on, it was Wellington who threatened to double their advantage soon after, Bonevacia battering a thirty yarder over the bar after Watson had seen his initial effort blocked by Harry Ascroft.

The home team went desperately close to netting a second goal on the quarter-hour, and again, it was Barbarouses who asked the question. Spotting Necevski off his line, the speedster unleashed a teasing cross-shot from wide on the right which completely deceived the custodian, who was relieved to see the sphere creep narrowly past the far upright.

The visitors finally responded sixty seconds later. Connor Pain led the charge, and deftly side-stepped the sliding tackle of Jason Tratt before setting sail for goal. Pain’s slide-rule pass invited Roy O’Donovan to make a darting run into the penalty area, but with Andrew Durante on his shoulder, the striker went to ground a little too easily for referee Matt Conger’s liking, the official ignoring O’Donovan’s penalty pleas.

After this, the visitors really began to dominate possession, but there was a resolve about Wellington which hasn’t been seen too often of late. This was a match they were determined not to lose, and it was the home team who looked the more likely side to score again.

In the 24th minute, Watson, Guilherme Finkler and Barbarouses combined to pick out Roy Krishna, who pulled the ball down brilliantly before bursting forward and letting fly. As the ball slammed into the side-netting, Watson yelled at his team-mate – a slide-rule pass from Krishna would have presented the striker with a tap-in.

Watson featured in Wellington’s next attack of note, ten minutes before half-time, his charging run culminating in a shot being blocked by Jake McGing. In the immediate aftermath, Storm Roux slumped to the ground, his evening over thanks to an ankle injury – not a sight neither Central Coast nor All Whites fans were pleased to see.

Four minutes before half-time, Watson rattled the bar from an offside position, while more Barbarouses antics forced Central Coast’s rearguard to scramble away the danger prior to the half-time whistle.

After the resumption of play, both teams probed for early openings, with the visitors going close to equalising ten minutes into the second half. Scott Galloway worked a one-two with Fabio Ferreira before playing the ball across to Pain, who checked inside and curled an effort from the edge of the penalty area just past Glen Moss’ left-hand upright.

Wellington’s response was strong, and sustained. Bonevacia pounced on a stray pass three minutes later and lashed a twenty-yarder narrowly past the post, after which the Dutchman combined with Finkler on the left for the benefit of Krishna. He looked to pick out Barbarouses, but Michael Neill’s intervention spared Central Coast’s blushes.

Seconds later, Finkler fed the overlapping Adam Parkhouse – a strong second half showing – to present the fullback with the chance to pick out Watson with a cross. Necevski’s intervention at the near post thwarted this raid.

In the 63rd minute, Wellington went desperately close to doubling their lead. Bonevacia played the ball across to Tratt – the home team’s fullbacks were prominent performers in this contest. In turn, he threaded the ball through to Watson, who poked a shot past Necevski, only for the ball to hit the post then rebound off the prone ‘keeper, allowing Central Coast to scramble the sphere to safety once more.

Respite was brief for the visitors, however, with Watson’s dummy run across the defence allowing a Finkler free-kick, taken from wide on the left, to fly towards the far corner of the net. Necevski plunged to his left to keep this one out, and looked on with relief soon after as Fabio Ferreira foiled another Wellington raid, Tratt and Krishna combining on the right, hoping to reward Barbarouses with a low cross.

The resulting corner was taken by Finkler, and cleared beyond the edge of the penalty area. Lurking some thirty yards out from goal was Vince Lia, who stepped forward and unleashed the most sweetly struck screamer you’ll ever see, the ball arrowing into the top right-hand corner of Necevski’s goal to double Wellington’s lead – and how!

2-0 very nearly became 3-0 sixty seconds later, with Barbarouses volleying an effort narrowly past the far post. Then a vital tackle by Ascroft foiled Watson as he looked to do justice to a delicious through ball from Lia.

Still Wellington pressed, Barbarouses and Watson working a one-two on the left which saw the former direct a volley across the face of goal in the 73rd minute, three minutes before Necevski saved at the feet of Krishna after he, too, had worked a one-two with Watson, who was playing like a man possessed – this was easily his best-ever game in a Wellington shirt.

Central Coast finally gave Moss something to do twelve minutes from time. Liam Rose caught Finkler in possession in midfield, presenting substitute Trent Buhagiar with the chance to let rip from twenty-five yards. Moss plunged to his left to maintain his clean sheet, as those in front of him went in search of more goals.

Only a stunning save, high to his left, by Necevski, prevented Bonevacia from matching Lia’s long-range piledriver with one of his own in the 79th minute, while from Finkler’s resulting corner, Watson hit the crossbar with a header as Wellington piled on the pressure.

They eventually got their reward with virtually the last kick of the game. Central Coast’s hopes of a late consolation goal were dashed by Wellington’s defence, with Bonevacia sparking a counter-attack which featured the fast-charging Barbarouses and Tratt, who drew Necevski out of goal before slipping a pass into the stride of Krishna.

He gleefully steered home his sixth goal of the season to give Wellington a welcome and convincing 3-0 win over Central Coast, a result which lifts the victors above the vanquished on goal difference as they began life without Ernie Merrick on an impressive winning note.

Match details

Crowd:  tba

Wellington Phoenix FC:      Moss (gk); Tratt, Durante, Rossi (booked, 90), Parkhouse; Bonevacia, Finkler, Lia (Rodriguez, 80); Barbarouses, Watson (Fenton, 88), Krishna

Central Coast Mariners FC:  Necevski (gk); Roux (Neill, 37), Ascroft, McGing, Galloway (booked, 11); Powell (booked, 65), Rose, Berry; Ferreira (Buhagiar, 72), O’Donovan, Pain (Appiah, 84)

Points and ratings

Referee:  Matt Conger 6/10
Match    6/10  
Pitch   8 /10

Player points
3.  Barbarouses (WP)
2.  Watson (WP)
1.  Tratt  (WP)