Wellington stun Melbourne Victory to keep hopes alive

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

Hyundai A-League – Season 12 – 2016/2017 – Round 25
Sunday 2 April, 2017 –  Melbourne Football Stadium

Melbourne Victory FC 0  
lost to
Wellington Phoenix FC 3 (R. Bonevacia 9′, 26′, S. Smeltz 89′)


Wellington Phoenix produced arguably their most complete display of this Hyundai A-League season at AAMI Park on April 2, as they stunned an inept Melbourne Victory combination 3-0 to maintain their faint hopes of securing a play-off spot.

There wasn’t a great deal to choose between the teams early on, but all that changed in the ninth minute when, out of nowhere, the visitors opened the scoring. Matthew Ridenton – soon to succumb to what looked like an ACL injury after twisting his knee awkwardly – linked up with Guilherme Finkler to present Roly Bonevacia with a shooting chance, one he arrowed into the far corner of the net from twenty-five yards.

It was an object lesson in how to silence a 17,011-strong crowd, if nothing else. And the Dutchman came close to bagging a second goal three minutes later, displaying excellent technique to execute a high hip-turn volley after a Finkler corner had been partially cleared.

Bonevacia’s shot was blocked on this occasion, but Wellington kept on coming, and in the thirteenth minute, Costa Barbarouses only just failed to capitalise on an under-hit James Donachie back-pass thanks to the awareness of goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas, who did well to retrieve the situation in the calm manner he displayed.

Within seconds, however, the visitors were pressing again, one-touch passing from Bonevacia and Barbarouses to Thomas Doyle culminating in the fullback’s first time cross arcing into the middle, where Roy Krishna was diving full length to meet it.

He didn’t make contact, but Melbourne defender Alan Baro, lurking on Krishna’s shoulder, did, and averted the danger for a … goal kick, according to referee Jarred Gillett, who issued nine cards in this contest, one of which was red, of which more later.

Dylan Fox replaced Ridenton in Wellington’s rearguard, which had, to this stage, been untroubled. It was their attack which was causing all the problems, and once more, Bonevacia was the central figure, releasing Barbarouses down the left in the twentieth minute with a fine pass.

The former Melbourne man played the ball inside to Krishna, who wrong-footed his marker before curling an eighteen yarder over Thomas but against the back stanchion which hold the goal netting in place.

Melbourne looked well out of sorts, despite having the edge in possession, but finally mustered their first attack of note in the 21st minute. Fahid Ben Khalfallah secured possession on the left and quickly linked with Besart Berisha.

But, as was to happen throughout the evening, Andrew Durante, Marco Rossi and company stood firm, thwarting the local spearhead on this occasion, and his colleagues time and again in the second half in particular to such great effect that Lewis Italiano – a surprise choice to start for Wellington, despite Glen Moss’ availability – barely had to make a save throughout the entire match.

Wellington’s response to Melbourne’s first opening was to increase the size of the mountain the home team had to scale – the visitors doubled their lead in the 26th minute.

Another Wellington raid had come to nought, but the clearance found its way to Doyle, who played the ball inside to Bonevacia. From fully thirty yards, he unleashed a grasscutter which careered past the diving figure of Thomas before crossing the line after ricocheting off the inside of both posts.

Melbourne were now in trouble, and they knew it. Berisha led their bid to get back into the contest in the 29th minute, surging forward before releasing Ben Khalfallah on the left. His cross picked out the unmarked Marco Rojas – Doyle lost his man – but the All Whites’ flank player directed his header wide of the target.

After Alex Rodriguez had seen Thomas smother his shot, following an enterprising raid featuring Krishna and Barbarouses, an Andrew Durante error presented Berisha with a great chance to halve the deficit from the edge of the area ten minutes before half-time.

His effort cannoned off the stanchion, while a long-range effort from Rojas was smothered by Italiano soon after as the home team strove to get back into the contest before the interval.

But they nearly conceded a third goal soon after, Jason Geria’s poor pass presenting Barbarouses with the ball, an object he took past two opponents before shooting tamely at the target.

Melbourne’s last chance of note before the interval saw Leigh Broxham leading the charge before he linked with James Troisi and Ben Khalfallah, the latter pair working a one-two which culminated in Troisi’s low drive arrowing across the face of goal.

The home team came out all guns blazing in the second spell, but found themselves unable to penetrate a Wellington rearguard in which Durante and Marco Rossi were performing exceptionally.

Melbourne weren’t aiding their cause with wayward penetrating passes at times, but they were struggling to fire shots, with Italiano afforded an armchair ride by his defenders as those in blue toiled in vain in their quest to halve the deficit.

Occasionally they found a way through, only for committed Wellington defending to thwart their progress – witness Doyle’s despairing effort to block Troisi’s acute-angled shot in the 57th minute, a challenge which typified Wellington’s commitment in this contest.

Slowly but surely the wind went out of Melbourne’s sails, and the visitors grew into the half as an attacking force themselves. Barbarouses’ counter-attacking run in the 66th minute saw him evade a couple of challenges before his shot was blocked by Baro.

But when the pair came face-to-face again six minutes later, Baro sent Barbarouses sprawling with a despairing challenge which, as he was the last defender, left referee Gillett with no option – out came the red card, and Melbourne were down to ten for the duration.

That set the trend for the remainder of the contest – Melbourne pounding away in vain, with Troisi closest to scoring for them, only to be caught on the counter-attack by a Wellington side which squandered a host of chances inside the final ten minutes as they looked to ice the cake.

Krishna, Barbarouses, Smeltz – twice – and Fox all spurned the opportunity to increase the visitors’ advantage before, finally, Smeltz made it 3-0 in the final minute, tapping in after Barbarouses and Doyle – a great supporting run – had contrived the opening.

They could have had a fourth, with Thomas denying Barbarouses’ stoppage time curler, but 3-0 was quite a statement for Wellington to make in a match Melbourne entered needing only a point to confirm a home semi-final. They’ll have to play a lot better than this if they harbour hopes of claming the silverware, that’s for sure.

Match details

Crowd:  17,011

Melbourne Victory FC:  Thomas (gk); Geria (booked, 73) (Ansell, 76), Donachie, Baro (sent off, 72), Georgievski; Valeri, Troisi, Broxham; Rojas, Berisha, Ben Khalfallah (Ingham, 68)

Wellington Phoenix FC:       Italiano (gk); Ridenton (Fox, 17 (booked, 78)), Durante (booked, 27), Rossi, Doyle; Lia (booked, 7), Finkler (Smeltz, 68), Rodriguez (booked, 69) (McGlinchey, 79 (booked, 90)); Barbarouses, Krishna, Bonevacia (booked, 75)

Points and ratings

Referee: Jarred Gillett    5/10

Match    6/10  
Pitch   7/10

Player points:
3.  Durante
2.  Doyle
1.   Bonevacia