Change of tactics sparks Wellington fightback

by Jeremy Ruane

with the compliments of

A-League Season 2013/14 – Round 2

5pm Sunday, October 20, 2013 – Parramatta Stadium



Western Sydney Wanderers FC 1

(Jerome Polenz 15′)

drew with

Wellington Phoenix FC 1

(Jeremy Brockie 60′)

A stirring fightback, inspired by a tactical change half-an-hour into the match, earned Wellington Phoenix a 1-1 draw at Western Sydney Wanderers on 20 October, in a Hyundai A-League encounter witnessed by 16,294 fans at Pirtek Stadium.

The home team had caused the visitors all sorts of problems down Western Sydney’s right flank from the outset, with Leo Bertos forced to clear off the line from Michael Bridges just 45 seconds into the contest, a result of Youssouf Hersi’s right wing raid which culminated in a super low cross which zoomed across the face of goal.

Wellington coach resolved that problem on the half-hour, withdrawing the ineffective Stein Huysegems from the fray and replacing him with left-sided midfielder Jason Hicks, a move which instantly shored up the visitors’ ranks and allowed them to get a grip on the game, which ultimately earned them a well deserved point.

Initially, however, Western Sydney were very much to the fore. Mateo Poljak sent one sizzling over the bar from eighteen yards after beating two opponents upon being gifted possession by Vince Lia in the third minute.

Ten minutes later, a Jerome Polenz twenty yard piledriver was blocked by Ben Sigmund, following Shinji Ono’s partially cleared corner, although Wellington failed to learn the lessons from that error.

For two minutes later, the same circumstances occurred – an Ono corner was cleared to the edge of the penalty area. This time, Polenz met the ball with a sweetly struck volley which arrowed through the crowded goalmouth and under the dive of the unsighted Glen Moss – 1-0 Western Sydney, much to the delight of the vocal locals.

This sparked a brief flurry from Wellington in which Carlos Hernandez was prominent, but it was the home team who went close to altering the scoreline again in the twentieth minute, Tomi Juric’s looping header greedily grabbed by Moss after the striker had been picked out by Poljak’s cross.

Wellington felt more than a tad aggrieved when referee Jarred Gillett ignored Kenny Cunningham’s free-kick claims when he went to ground under Polenz’s challenge when in full flight just outside the penalty area in the 26th minute, but in fairness to the official he was consistent throughout the match in this regard – any claims, no matter where the perceived offence occurred, were ignored, side regardless.

Cue the visitors’ tactical change, the game’s second substitution – Western Sydney had been forced to withdraw Aaron Mooy from the fray inside the first ten minutes when he found himself very much the worse for wear following an aerial duel with Manny Muscat which left the Maltese international on a yellow card for the balance.

And balance was what Wellington had following the introduction of Jason Hicks, who wasted little time in imposing himself on proceedings. He worked an opening with Hernandez in the 32nd minute which culminated in Bertos angling an inviting cross into the goalmouth, just too far in front of both Cunningham and Jeremy Brockie to do justice to.

Two minutes later, Hicks caught Mooy’s replacement, Iacopo La Rocca, in possession half-way inside Wellington’s half. The substitute stormed downfield before slipping a delightfully weighted pass into the stride of Brockie, who rattled the side-netting with his shot.

Back came Western Suburbs, Ono working a 38th minute short corner routine with Hersi before Polenz evaded Brockie on the edge of the area and set up Hersi, whose progress into the penalty area was only thwarted by Moss’ point-blank save.

Wellington’s ‘keeper was to the fore again five minutes later, producing a super save to prevent Hersi from doubling Western Sydney’s lead after the winger had been released by the combined intervention and Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Juric – his was a super pass!

Topor-Stanley was guilty of the miss of the match – to this point, at any rate – in the 47th minute, heading over from four yards after Ono picked him out with a pinpoint free-kick to the far post.

To make amends, Western Sydney’s skipper raced back downfield in the seconds which followed, thus enabling him to be in place to block a Brockie effort after Hicks had got to the by-line and picked out the striker with a cross.

Western Sydney should have doubled their lead in the 52nd minute. Ono’s set-piece repertoire in this match was exquisite, and the free-kick he delivered into the danger zone from near the left flank was begging a finish. Michael Beauchamp, however, failed to provide it, poking the ball past the far post from no more than a yard out!

It was a let-off from which Wellington drew strength. Only a fantastic double-save by Ante Covic prevented the visitors from drawing level in the 59th minute – Lia and half-time substitute Paul Ifill were the players denied, but they didn’t have long to wait to silence the buoyant crowd.

Sigmund played the ball forward down the right, and Ifill, who was celebrating his 34th birthday, did Adam D’Apuzzo an absolute treat with a dummy and sharp turn. The Barbados international then delivered an exquisite first-time cross on the run, right into the stride of Brockie, who was darting between defenders to meet this delivery to the near post.

On reaching the sphere, Brockie wasted no time in instantly despatching it inside Covic’s near post – a super goal which silenced the natives and set up the rest of the second half, now that the scoreboard read 1-1.

Over the course of the next five minutes, Wellington went close to taking the lead on three occasions. Ifill’s control of Sigmund’s 62nd minute ball forward was superb, and his curling twenty yarder forced Covic to tip the ball round the post.

A minute later, Covic produced another brilliant save, this time pawing out a stunning Hernandez free-kick from wide out on the left flank which the Costa Rican curled perfectly towards the top near corner of the net. Topor-Stanley completed the clearance on this occasion.

Three minutes elapsed before Wellington were in again, Ifill and Hernandez combining for Brockie to unleash a twenty-yarder on the run. Covic once more kept his team in the match, this time with a smothered save.

Western Sydney responded with some raids of their own. Polenz’s teasing cross to the far post was headed clear at the vital moment by Sigmund, despite the fact he was facing his own goal and had Juric on his shoulder in this 71st minute opening.

Three minutes later, substitute Brendon Santalab stripped Lia of possession – the midfielder did not have a good game – half-way inside Wellington’s half and promptly let rip a thunderbolt which crashed to safety off Moss’ left-hand post, the ‘keeper diving in vain to get near it.

After Hernandez dumped a twenty yard free-kick on the roof of Western Sydney’s net, Andrew Durante’s timely intervention prevented Juric from getting on the end of another quality cross from Hersi – the former Dutch U-21 international shone throughout for his side, while Durante and Sigmund were in commanding form in Wellington’s rearguard, once Merrick had resolved the team’s tactical shortcomings.

 In the final minute, Western Sydney sought a dramatic winner. Polenz’s hanging cross dropped beyond the far post into the stride of Bridges, whose shot was only parried by Moss. Santalab raced in looking to turn home the rebound, and went down under a challenge which had all present screaming for a penalty.

 Referee Gillett wasn’t having a bar of their claims, however, a call which meant Wellington had done enough to earn a share of the spoils at the home of last season’s table-toppers, a 1-1 scoreline which few would have begrudged the vibrant visitors, who, like their hosts, contributed much to an enthralling encounter.


Western Sydney Wanderers FC:

Covic; Polenz (booked, 76), Beauchamp, Topor-Stanley, D’Apuzzo; Mooy (La Rocca, 9), Ono (Santalab, 64), Poljak; Hersi (Haliti, 82), Juric, Bridges

Wellington Phoenic FC:

Moss; Bertos (booked 51), Sigmund, Durante, Caira; Cunningham (Ifill, 46), Muscat (booked, 5), Lia; Brockie (Riera, 86), Huysegems (Hicks, 31), Hernandez

Referee: Jarred Gillett

Ratings & Points

Match  8/10
Pitch  6/10
Referee  6/10

3.  Hersi
2.  Sigmund
1.  Durante