Melbourne come from two down, to down Wellington

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 13 – 2017/2018 – Round 9
4:30pm, Sunday 3 December, 2017 – Westpac Stadium, Wellington, NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 2 (Andrija Kaluderovic 29′, 31′)
lost to
Melbourne Victory FC 3 (Besart Berisha 54′, Goran Paracki 57′, James Troisi 86′)


Melbourne Victory scored a convincing come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Wellington Phoenix in front of 5,765 fans at Westpac Stadium on December 3, as the home team, not for the first time – and probably not the last – this season, bottled a two-goal lead in the Hyundai A-League.

In truth, the visitors should have won this game at a canter. They were far superior to a bumbling Wellington outfit, whose inept defensive performance endorsed why they are propping up the competition.

They should be glad that Football Federation Australia is in such disarray that they can’t even get enough votes to make changes which are considered necessary for the game.

If the league’s overseers had their house in order, you can guarantee that closing the doors on the under-achieving operation based across the Tasman would be high on their list of priorities, as Wellington no longer merit their place in Australia’s foremost club competition.

They began this game well enough, with three Matthew Ridenton set-pieces inside the first five minutes giving Melbourne cause for concern, but the visitors’ seventh minute response showed why they were favourites to win this match.

Stefan Nigro played the ball forward to Costa Barbarouses, who headed the ball down neatly into the stride of James Troisi. Holding off a challenge, he charged into the penalty area before lashing a shot across Lewis Italiano, only to see it strike the base of the far post and rebound back to a grateful goalkeeper.

Sixty seconds later, the outstanding Leroy George played Besart Berisha through Wellington’s feeble back-line, but had you put your house on the league’s all-time-leading marksman adding to his tally on this occasion, you would now be homeless – and it wasn’t the only occasion in this contest in which Berisha would be guilty of squandering a chance you would expect him to convert with aplomb.

Wellington’s response saw Marco Rossi sweep the ball wide to Thomas Doyle. The fullback’s teasing cross was hooked out by Thomas Deng to Michael McGlinchey, who struck a beauty from fifteen yards which had ‘top far corner’ written all over it until Deng rose to head the ball to safety.

Back came Melbourne on a counter-attack arising from a Barbarouses challenge on Roy Krishna which left the Fijian in a bad way. The ball was played forward in search of George, but Italiano careered miles out of his penalty area to head the ball away.

His header landed at the feet of Berisha, who promptly picked out George again, this time with a pass which allowed the Dutchman to let fly. But the offside flag was raised against him – a great piece of work by the referee’s assistant, who kept his wits about him given that Italiano’s present position meant that Andrew Durante was the lone Wellington player between the ball and the goal – it takes two to tango!

Melbourne’s frustration at this was compounded par excellence in the seventeenth minute when a beautifully taken goal by Berisha was initially awarded by referee Alex King, then overturned on the evidence available to the Video Assistant Referee, who deemed that the marksman was offside by the width of his leg … you can just imagine what Berisha was muttering to himself in choicest Albanian in response!

After Ridenton had miscued a twenty-yarder, Melbourne were again thwarted in the 26th minute. Troisi’s charging run into the area saw him set up George for a shot which Durante blocked to safety.

Two headed goals in as many minutes either side of the half-hour mark turned the game on its head – and what fine headers both were! Andrija Kaludjerovic took his tally for the season to six, then seven goals with two exquisite headed examples of maximising the pace on the delivery to find the net.

In the 29th minute, Krishna had run up a blind alley down the right, so checked his run to find Scott Galloway steaming up in support. The fullback delivered a first time cross into the heart of Melbourne’s penalty area, where Kaludjerovic’s salmon-like leap saw him unleash a towering eight yard header which careered past the flailing arms of Lawrence Thomas into the top far corner of the net.

1-0 became 2-0 75 seconds later. This time, the delivery came from the left flank – Doyle the fullback making progress on this occasion. His cross picked out Kaludjerovic arriving on the edge of the penalty area, and he expertly executed a looping header which arced over Thomas and gave Wellington a 2-0 lead which they scarcely deserved.

Melbourne were stunned by the turnaround in their fortunes, but, aided by some poor passing, bewildering option-taking and some defending which, at times, made the Keystone Cops look mundane, they fought their way back into the contest.

Five minutes before half-time, they went close to pulling a goal back via bizarre means. Deng played the ball forward, and Andrew Durante slipped as he attempted to clear it. The ball took a wild ricochet, and suddenly George found himself one-on-one with Italiano, who blocked well at close quarters before berating his defenders – his anger with them was growing by the minute, and would increase in the second spell.

Three minutes after half-time, Melbourne contrived a terrific attack from which they should have scored. George gathered the ball on the left, and played it inside to Berisha.

His touch back invited Troisi to play the footballing equivalent of a nine iron shot, a deliciously weighted pass onto which George latched as he charged into the penalty area, only to prod the ball past the far post from three yards – it was a glaring miss!

Wellington mounted a by now rare attack in response, with Thomas forced to produce a point-blank save to thwart Krishna as he dashed through onto Dario Vidosic’s angled pass.

Melbourne’s long-awaited breakthrough finally materialised in the 54th minute. Troisi, George and Berisha weaved their wizardry once more, the Albanian nutmegging Rossi to pick out Barbarouses, whose shot on the turn was well parried by Italiano. Unfortunately for the goalkeeper, the ball rolled straight into the path of Berisha …

2-1, and so nearly 2-2 within sixty seconds! Barbarouses bulldozed his way into the area on the left before pulling the ball back from the by-line. Berisha wasn’t able to make contact with it, but Doyle invited him to have another go, this time while falling backwards some six yards out from goal. Berisha’s rising shot only just missed.

But he and his Melbourne team-mates were celebrating again in the 57th minute, as a George corner struck the back of the unfortunate Goran Paracki and ricocheted into the back of Wellington’s net – 2-2, another two-goal advantage squandered by the home team.

Once the equaliser went in, there was only ever going to be one winner in this match, and it wasn’t Wellington. Carl Valeri’s controlled twenty yard volley landed on the roof of the home team’s net on the hour, while five minutes later, George worked his way inside before working a one-two with Berisha.

He then crossed to the far post where Barbarouses, who had started the move by playing the ball wide to the Dutchman, was perfectly placed to add further misery to his former club, only for his shot from four yards to be blocked at close quarters by Durante, the ball striking his hand to prompt Melbourne penalty claims which were summarily dismissed by the match officials.

The visitors kept on coming – victory would be theirs in this match, come hell or high water! Berisha inexplicably steered the ball wide of an open goal nine minutes from time after Troisi had got the better of the bumbling figure of Rossi near the by-line, while George, Troisi, Berisha and Barbarouses combined to get their wires crossed sixty seconds later as another Melbourne chance went begging.

A rare Wellington raid seven minutes from time saw substitute Adam Parkhouse combine with Doyle down the left, the pair presenting Vidosic with the chance to unleash a snapshot. The ball flew narrowly past Thomas’ right-hand post.

Three minutes later, a Ridenton free-kick presented Wellington with another chance to record an undeserved victory, only for Daniel Mullen to direct his header straight at Thomas.

The ‘keeper sparked a Melbourne counter-attack which saw Valeri combine with Berisha, who played a delightful pass through from the edge of the area into Troisi’s stride. The striker swiftly despatched the ball beyond Italiano to clinch Melbourne’s come-from-behind 3-2 victory.

They could have bagged a fourth before the end, Deng and Berisha combining to play in Troisi near the by-line. From an acute angle, he rattled the side-netting, the final act of note in a match deservedly won by the visitors over a Wellington team which has a fair bit of work to do very quickly if they don’t want to be cast adrift at the bottom of the table, something which could well happen sooner rather than later on current form.

Match details

Crowd: 5,765

Wellington Phoenix FC: Italiano (gk); Galloway (Mullen, 79), Durante (Watson, 88), Rossi, Doyle; McGlinchey (booked, 40) (Parkhouse, 46), Ridenton (booked, 59), Paracki (booked, 68); Krishna (booked, 88), Kaludjerovic, Vidosic
Coach: Darije Kalezić

Melbourne Victory FC: Thomas; Geria, Deng, Williams, Nigro (booked, 77); Sanchez (Broxham, 67), Troisi, Valeri; Barbarouses (Theoharous, 84), Berisha, George (Ingham, 90)
Coach: Kevin Muscat

Points and ratings

Referee: Alex King 5/10

Match 7/10
Pitch 8/10

Player points:
3 George
2 Berisha
1 Troisi