Western Sydney too strong for Wellington in New Plymouth

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

Hyundai A-League – Season 12 – 2016/2017 – Round 18

7:35pm, Saturday 4 February, 2017 –  Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC  1 (Shane Smeltz 71′)
drew with
Western Sydney Wanderers FC  3 (Brendon Santalab 21′, 65′, Nicolás Martínez 58′)

Western Sydney Wanderers proved far too strong for Wellington Phoenix in their Hyundai A-League clash at New Plymouth’s Yarrow Stadium on 4 February, with the local side finishing with ten men in going down 3-1 to the former Asian Champions League winners.

In a lively opening to the contest, Roly Bonevacia fired a twenty-five yard free-kick at Vedran Janjetovic in the third minute, then provided a fine pass which took out three opponents four minutes later to allow Alex Rodriguez and Costa Barbarouses to team up on the right.

The latter’s cross had Shane Smeltz as its target, but Janjetovic tipped the ball away from the striker at the near post, a feat he would repeat from a Jacob Tratt cross intended for Roy Krishna later in the half, after a fine move which featured Rodriguez, Bonevacia and the overlapping fullback.

Wests fired their first shot in anger in the eleventh minute, with Nicolas Martinez just inches away from finding the top corner of the net with a twenty yard free-kick. Two minutes later, the same player was instrumental in another raid by the visitors which had a controversial conclusion.

Dimas Delgado picked up a Wellington clearance and brought the playmaker into the action. Martinez evaded a challenge then let rip with a fifteen yard grasscutter which beat the diving figure of Glen Moss, but not his right-hand upright.

The ball rebounded off the post to the incoming figure of Terry Antonis, who saw his first-time shot rebound into the air off the prone figure of Moss. Brendon Santalab reacted quickly, coming from behind Marco Rossi to head the ball into the net, but was wrongly called offside, a fact not lost on Wests’ coach Tony Popovic, whose regular wanderings out of his technical area went unpoliced all evening.

Wellington looked to make hay from this let-off instantly, with Krishna careering down the left past three opponents from the resulting free-kick. Reaching the by-line near the near post, he pulled the ball back into the goalmouth, expecting a black-clad team-mate to be striding onto it. Instead, Wests fullback Brendan Hamill intervened, although his clearance can hardly be described as conventional!

Halfway through the first half, the visitors opened the scoring. Defensive lynchpin Jonathan Aspropotamitis sparked things off with a ball which picked out Martinez, who stormed downfield, taking on Wellington opponents aplenty before slipping the ball into the stride of Santalab.

He fired a shot across Moss, who got a hand to it, but was unable to prevent the sphere from spinning into the far corner of the net to give Wests a lead which should have been afforded them eight minutes earlier.

They came desperately close to doubling it four minutes later. Santalab headed a Barbarouses free-kick away, and the ball was very swiftly played into the stride of Jumpei Kusukami, on the left flank.

From halfway, he unleashed a quite superbly timed and angled pass in behind three retreating Wellington defenders and perfectly into the stride of Santalab, who had made a run at breakneck pace from within his own penalty area to join the attack. Had he beaten Moss with his shot, this would have been a ‘goal of the year’ contender – a brilliant raid which deserved better fate.

On the half-hour, Wellington were desperately unlucky not to equalise. Barbarouses – their best player on the night – whipped in a free-kick which Janjetovic partially punched clear. The ball flew into the face of Robert Cornthwaite, who was facing his own goal, but didn’t rebound in that direction, instead spinning into the goalmouth from whence it was hastily cleared.

Cornthwaite was in action at the other end of the park seven minutes later, looking to ghost in on the far post after Martinez had weaved his magic and engineered some space in which to clip a cross from the far edge of the penalty area. Tratt was forced to head past his own post to prevent the Wests’ defender from heading home their second goal.

Five minutes later, Vince Lia released Barbarouses down the left with a pass which allowed him to stand Hamill up before powering past him into the penalty area, from where he rattled the side-netting by the near post.

Rodriguez was next to chance his luck for Wellington, beating one before seeing his shot cannon to safety off Aspropotamitis. The resulting corner from Barbarouses was cleared back to him, allowing him to beat a challenge and angle a cross to the far post which Smeltz was a stride away from getting on the end of.

Right on half-time, Wests nearly bagged a second goal. Kusukami got to the by-line on the right inside Wellington’s penalty area before laying the ball back to Antonis, whose lovely flighted cross invited Santalab to send a header arcing over the approaching figure of Moss, but just past the far post.

Wellington began the second spell strongly, with Smeltz twice going close inside the first eleven minutes of the half. Janjetovic smothered his first effort, after the striker had been picked out by Tratt, while two minutes later Smeltz met Barbarouses’ cross from the left, but was unable to guide his header on target.

Totally against the run of play in the second half, Wests doubled their lead in the 58th minute with a classic counter-attacking goal. Hamill threw the ball into Delgado, who sent Santalab scampering through the inside-right channel into the penalty, where he lured Moss out of goal before inviting Martinez to tap in for a goal his display fully merited.

Wellington resumed their attacking ways straight from the kick-off, substitute Guilherme Finkler whipping in a cross which was plucked off Krishna’s head by the ever-alert Janjetovic, who saved at the feet of the flying Fijian ten minutes later, after substitutes Michael McGlinchey and Finkler had combined to good effect.

By this time, however, the home team had conceded a third goal. After Moss had saved bravely at the feet of Santalab, and before the same player had provided a pass which Kusukami volleyed narrowly over the near post, Wests clinched the points in the 66th minute.

A Thomas Doyle error allowed Antonis to get in behind him to the by-line, from where he angled the ball back into the stride of Santalab, who made no mistake from ten yards to double his personal tally for the match – 3-0.

Five minutes later, however, Wellington were back in it, Smeltz having sent Janjetovic the wrong way from the penalty spot after the sliding – but otherwise well-performed – figure of Kearyn Baccus had used his hand to thwart a Finkler cross from reaching its intended destination.

That goal put a spring in the step of the Wellingtonians, with Barbarouses going close to reducing the deficit still further four minutes later. After brilliantly evading three challenges in a limited area, he saw Janjetovic block his shot with his legs, then head Smeltz screaming at him for not playing it square – the striker was quids in!

Seconds later, Smeltz was sent packing, inexperienced referee Adam Fielding sending off the striker for having committed his second bookable offence. That Wellington’s Yellow Fever fans – and a few others among the 5,185-strong crowd – promptly burst into a chorus of “All we want is a decent referee” gives you a fair idea about the official’s display.

On a night when there were very few fouls of a malicious nature, the decidedly inexperienced Mr Fielding saw fit to brandish the yellow card eight times, with six of the recipients being representatives of the home team. Out of his depth.

The dismissal put an end to Wellington’s hopes of a comeback, and in the end it was the visitors who could have won by a bigger margin against their numerically challenged rivals.

Both attacks featured fullback Jack Clisby, whose first effort – a stinging twenty yarder after evading two opponents five minutes from time – was tipped onto the bar by Moss. Rossi then intervened in stoppage time to prevent the fullback’s low cross from reaching its intended target, debutant Ryan Griffiths, Wests’ new signing.

The visitors had done more than enough to win this clash, though, and they achieved their 3-1 victory in convincing fashion, so much so that one wonders how they’ve managed to draw so many games this season.

Match details

Crowd:  5,185

Wellington Phoenix FC:       Moss (gk); Tratt, Durante (booked, 10), Rossi (booked, 36), Doyle; Barbarouses, Rodriguez (McGlinchey, 66), Lia (Ridenton, 87), Krishna; Bonevacia (booked, 45) (Finkler, 52 (booked, 67)), Smeltz (booked, 20, 76 – sent off)

Western Sydney Wanderers FC:  Janjetovic (gk); Hamill, Cornthwaite, Astropotamitis, Clisby; Baccus (booked, 53), Antonis (Sotirio, 80), Delgado (booked, 24) (Pinatares, 74); Kusukami, Santalab (Griffiths, 89), Martinez

Points and ratings

Referee:   Adam Fielding     2/10
Match    7/10  
Pitch   8/10

Player points
3.  Martinez
2.  Santalab
1.  Baccus