Wellington come from behind to create Club record

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

Hyundai A-League – Season 14 – 2018/2019 – Round 13
7:35pm, Saturday 12 January, 2019 – Westpac Stadium, Wellington, NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 3 (Roy Krishna 48′, 58′, David Williams 65′)
Central Coast Mariners FC 2 (Matt Simon 8′, Andrew Hoole 21′)

Wellington Phoenix made it a record eight successive Hyundai A-League games without defeat on January 12, but did it the hard way by coming from two goals down to beat bottom-placed Central Coast Mariners 3-2 at Westpac Stadium.

This really was the proverbial game of two halves, because for all bar the last ten minutes of the first spell, there was only one team in this contest, and as the near-silence of the bumper crowd of 10,186 home fans betrayed, it wasn’t Wellington.

Central Coast hit the ground running, and created their first opening inside 100 seconds. Tommy Oar and Matt Millar combined on the right, with the latter whipping in a cross for Connor Pain to convert.

He was prevented from doing so by Louis Fenton’s covering challenge, but from Oar’s resulting corner – the first of seven the Mariners would deliver inside the opening thirteen minutes – Tom Hiariej volleyed over the bar.

An Andrew Hoole corner wasn’t cleared in the seventh minute, and in the ensuing melee, Steven Taylor hauled Matt Simon to the ground, prompting referee Alex King to unhesitatingly point to the penalty spot, from where Simon opened the scoring, sending Filip Kurto the wrong way from twelve yards.

Wellington looked to hit back straight from the kick-off, with Fenton and Michal Kopzcynski combining with Sarpreet Singh to set up Mitch Nichols with a shooting chance on the edge of the penalty area.

Millar’s superbly timed block tackle thwarted hopes of a swift equaliser for the locals, who looked on with growing concern as the visitors piled on the pressure in the next few minutes via a string of corners, from one of which Simon’s downward header was kept out by the legs of Kurto.

Following a brief spell of Wellington possession, Central Coast came again, and doubled their lead in the 21st minute. Jacob Melling’s ball forward released Hoole at pace through the inside left channel from half-way.

He surged downfield before checking inside and angling a shot from the edge of the penalty area towards goal, an effort which the wrong-footed Kurto took the pace off with a one-handed attempt to keep it out. But the ball continued to roll goalwards, and found the far corner of the net despite the fast-retreating Tom Doyle’s appearance on the scene.

Wellington had gone to great efforts to promote this match, with the club on the verge of a record eight games without defeat, and captain Andrew Durante making his 300th A-League appearance as well. Throw in the incentive of around $30,000 on offer to one lucky patron should the crowd figure exceed the 10,000 mark … yet here they were, 2-0 down to the bottom-placed team in the competition and not even looking like threatening to change the situation.

Central Coast’s ‘keeper, Ben Kennedy, had barely touched the ball by this stage of the match, and he continued to look on as his team-mates went in search of a third goal in the 28th minute.

Oar led the charge, taking on and beating three opponents before unleashing Pain through the inside left channel. Upon reaching the edge of the penalty area, he thrashed a thunderous drive goalwards which Kurto parried away in fine fashion as the ball scorched towards the top near corner of the net.

After about 35 minutes, Central Coast’s tremendous intensity began to wane, and Wellington instantly took charge of proceedings via a spell of concerted pressure. However, they fashioned just one opening of note before the interval, and fittingly, it was Durante who sparked things off in “Follow me” fashion.

He surged out of defence before feeding Fenton on the right, from where the wingback delivered a cross. It wasn’t cleared, and Roy Krishna instantly rose salmon-like to power a header goalwards, only for the hitherto idle Kennedy to respond with a fabulous reflex save which tipped the ball to safety.

Liberato Cacace retrieved it and recycled possession to Nichols, whose angled cross was met by a bullet header from David Williams, whose effort flew past Kennedy’s right-hand post.

Central Coast maintained their two-goal advantage until half-time, but immediately after it, their game plan went pear-shaped. Straight from the kick-off, the visitors charged downfield, and only Taylor’s vital clearance prevented Hoole’s low cross from reaching the unmarked figure of Simon inside the six-yard box.

Taylor’s clearance found its way to half-time substitute Cillian Sheridan, whose first touch of the ball sent Krishna haring through a non-existent Central Coast rearguard. Kye Rowles gave chase, and promptly bundled over the Fijian in the penalty area, thwarting by foul means a goalscoring opportunity which meant the defender’s record of having played every minute of the season so far was at an end.

His dismissal left the visitors in disarray, and Krishna wasted little time in halving the deficit from the penalty spot, albeit only just – Kennedy tipped his spot-kick onto the post, off which the ball ricocheted into the net.

2-1, and Wellington suddenly had their tails up, particularly now that they were facing numerically challenged opposition. Straight from the kick-off, Krishna sent Cacace careering down the left, and after scything inside Millar, he rattled the near post side-netting.

Five minutes later, Williams released Sheridan down the left, from where he evaded a challenge before delivering a delicious cross to the near post. Krishna, racing in to meet it, sent his header bulleting past the post – a move which deserved better fate.

Seconds later, the hitherto anonymous Sarpreet Singh fed Krishna on the right, from where he drew a near post save from Kennedy, whom the Fijian again faced from twelve yards in the 58th minute, having been taken out in the area by Melling’s clumsy challenge following Williams’ switch of play from left to right.

Krishna hammered home the penalty – 2-2 – then looked on as Fenton came desperately close to conceding one at the other end in his eagerness to prevent Pain from progressing in the area.

The wingback was involved at the right end of the park – from Wellington’s perspective – in the 61st minute, curling in a cross which Sheridan, via a glancing header, directed narrowly past the far post.

In the 65th minute, Wellington took the lead. Singh found Krishna, who wriggled through two challenges before slipping a pass into the stride of Williams, who fair hammered the ball home high into the net to the undisguised delight of the natives, one of whom couldn’t contain his joy – his 69th minute pitch invasion caught security staff well off guard, and he led them a merry dance before the inevitable occurred.

The distraction didn’t divert Wellington’s focus, however. Eighteen minutes from time, Cacace nutmegged Millar on the left before sending Sheridan away at pace. His superb low cross scythed through the six yard box, with neither Krishna nor Fenton, respectively attacking the near and far posts, able to reach it in time to turn it home.

Six minutes later, Singh picked out Fenton on the right with a fine pass which allowed the wing-back to evade a challenge before landing a cross-shot on the roof of Kennedy’s net.

Facing a tenth successive defeat, Central Coast mounted a late rally, and after Kurto smothered a drive from Pain, the visitors thought they had equalised four minutes from time via substitute Jordan Murray, only for the offside flag to come to Wellington’s rescue.

The home team responded to that let-off by pursuing a clinching fourth goal, but Williams was denied by Jack Clisby as he looked to wrap up the points. Wellington had done enough to clinch a come-from-behind victory, however, their 3-2 triumph leaving the home team well in control of their play-offs destiny – they are now some ten points clear of the seventh-placed team with the half-way mark imminent.

Central Coast, however, must be wondering what they have to do to experience the taste of victory again. This was their best chance all season – two goals up after 21 minutes – but their defensive fragility was once again their downfall, and they’re now one defeat away from equaling the NZ Knights’ record of eleven successive losses.

Match details

Crowd: 10,186

Wellington Phoenix FC: Kurto (gk); Taylor, Durante, Doyle; Fenton, Kopczynski (Fox, 90), Nichols (Sheridan, 46), Cacace (booked, 88); Krishna, Singh (Burgess, 85), Williams

Coach: Mark Rudan

Central Coast Mariners FC: Kennedy (gk); McGing, Aspropotamitis (booked, 18), Rowles (red: sent off, 47); Millar, Hiariej (Clisby, 62 (booked, 81), Melling (McGlinchey, 82), Pain; Hoole (booked, 45) (Murray, 74), Oar, Simon

Coach: Mike Mulvey

Points and ratings

Match 7/10
Pitch 8/10

Referee: Alex King 7/10

Player points:
3. Fenton (WP)
2. Millar (CCM)
1. Sheridan (WP)