Last-gasp winner steers ten-man Sydney to victory

by Jeremy Ruane:  with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League 2013/14 season, Round 7
5.30pm, Saturday 23 November, 2013 – Sydney Football Stadium (Allianz Stadium)
Sydney FC 2
(Richard Garcia 34’, Ranko Despotovic 90’+4)
Wellington Phoenix FC 1
(Kenny Cunningham 90’)

A last-gasp winner from debutant Ranko Despotovic earned ten-man Sydney FC a fortuitous 2-1 Hyundai A-League victory over Wellington Phoenix in front of 14,503 fans at Allianz Stadium on 23 November.

The visitors had scored what looked like being a deserved equaliser in stoppage time, but the substitute had the last laugh for the home team, whose defence had looked more than a little shaky in the opening fifteen minutes as the team from the Shaky Isles probed in search of weaknesses.

The opening half-hour of this encounter generally lacked imaginative play of any sort, with Alessandro Del Piero the only player to threaten a goal in this time. He withstood the challenge of Wellington’s Ben Sigmund in the nineteenth minute to engineer a shooting chance.

That twenty-five yard fizzed over the bar, while his thirty yard angled free-kick, eight minutes later, cleared the near post of the goal defended by Wellington goalkeeper Glen Moss, who was finally called into action in the 31st minute, following a quickly taken free-kick.

Pedj Bojic fed Joel Chianese down the right, inviting the striker to whip in a wicked low cross intended for Richard Garcia. He was a couple of strides away from meeting it, unlike Moss, who parried the threatening delivery to safety.

It proved the catalyst for a lively finish to a half which, until this point … sterile is the most appropriate word to describe it. Thankfully, that situation soon changed, and the game was much better for it.

Carlos Hernandez had plenty to do with the game moving through the gears. The Costa Rican’s passing and set-piece deliveries have been a feature of Wellington’s play this season, and it was on receipt of the former that Stein Huysegems was able to hold play up in the 32nd minute before rolling the ball into the stride of Vince Lia.

His rasping twenty yarder flew inches over Vedran Janjetovic’s crossbar, while from the resulting goal-kick, a gorgeous angled pass from Hernandez opened up Sydney’s defence and invited Jeremy Brockie to charge into the penalty area, with just the ‘keeper to beat.

He beat Janjetovic all right, but “The Cove”, rather than the back of the net, was in far greater danger of being hit by the ball by a player who carried his All Whites’ scoring prowess – he has yet to net for his country, despite making forty-two appearances – into his club play on this occasion.

Almost instantly, the feeling that Wellington would be made to pay for that miss materialised, and within three minutes, that premonition bore fruit.

Before Sydney opened the scoring, however, they hit the post through Del Piero, whose deft volley, on receipt of a Chianese cross, struck the woodwork and saw Manny Muscat just edge out Garcia in the race to the rebound.

Garcia wasn’t to be denied, however, and ten minutes from half-time, he received a pass, wide out on the left, from the hard-working Brett Emerton. The striker, greatly aided by a splendid overlapping run by Ali Abbas which put nearby defenders in two minds, dashed inside before thundering a scorching twenty-yarder home via the underside of the crossbar.

Within two minutes of that setback, Wellington should have been afforded the chance to equalise. Bojic, who had already been booked, clipped Jason Hicks in the penalty area as he dashed through the inside left channel – as clear-cut a spot-kick offence as you’ll ever see.

Referee Jarred Gillett, who had an unobstructed view of the incident, clearly had other ideas – he waved play on! Let’s just say this official has ’previous’ where making decidedly dubious decisions which adversely impact upon Wellington are concerned, and leave it for others of a conspiracy theory-inclined nature to discuss …

Seconds later, Hernandez unleashed a swerving thirty-yarder which Janjetovic was at full stretch to keep out, as Wellington sought a swift riposte after falling behind. But Sydney held firm, and in the 41st minute came close to doubling their advantage.

Del Piero picked out Abbas on the left with a peach of a pass which invited the fullback to let rip from the edge of the penalty area. His grass-cutting drive missed the far post by inches.

Right on half-time, Nick Carle played the ball wide to Garcia, who spotted Del Piero’s darting run into Wellington’s penalty area. None of the visiting team did, meaning that when the Italian received the ball, he had time to control it on his chest then unleash a shot on the turn. Moss blocked it with his legs.

Wellington’s ‘keeper produced a fine tip-over save to deny Bojic four minutes into the second half, after he had been picked out by Del Piero’s free-kick. Two minutes later, the Italian caused problems down the visitors’ right flank before inviting Carle to let rip from twenty-five yards. Moss plunged to his right to smother this grass-cutter.

Back came the visitors, Lia and Hernandez combining for Huysegems’ benefit in the 54th minute, but the outstanding Sebastian Ryall got across to block his effort at close quarters on the edge of the penalty area.

This sparked a counter-attack, with Emerton and Bojic working a one-two down the right before the overlapping fullback got to the by-line and picked out Garcia on the far post with his cross. The goalscorer headed the ball past the upright.

After this, Wellington began to gain the ascendancy, particularly possession-wise, only to be failed time and again by the quality of their final ball. They also introduced Paul Ifill and Kenny Cunningham to the fray in an effort to step up their pursuit of an equaliser.

The latter was involved in a 71st minute attack which was instigated by Muscat and featured the overlapping run and cross of fullback Louis Fenton. His delivery picked out Cunningham, who was denied at close quarters by Janjetovic.

Two minutes later, the balance of the game swung Wellington’s way as Bojic earned himself a second yellow card – his day was done, and the eleven men very quickly looked to make their numerical advantage count.

From the resulting free-kick, Hernandez pinged the ball to the far post, where Sigmund rose to head the ball down into the goalmouth. Flying in – literally – to meet it was Lia, whose diving header, from six yards, flew inches over the crossbar, prompting the midfielder to briefly lie prone, waiting for the ground to open up and swallow him – as misses go, it was approaching ‘glaring’ status.

Two minutes later, Cunningham rattled the outside of the near post with a shot on receipt of a Hernandez pass, while sixty seconds later the roles were reversed, with the substitute providing the pass for the playmaker to shoot. Ryall blocked this effort, seconds after Brockie had headed Albert Riera’s cross wildly wide of the target.

Brockie then sent a shot fizzing through the crowded goalmouth which Janjetovic proved equal to, while six minutes from time, Ryall again denied Hernandez after Ifill had supplied the ammunition.

A rare Sydney raid saw Moss grab an Abbas free-kick in the 86th minute, soon after which Ifill twisted and turned his way down the left before crossing to the far post. Brockie headed the ball down to Cunningham, whose six-yard drive was somehow kept out by Janjetovic – the ‘keeper’s reaction save and positioning made this look easier than it was.

Carmichael then had a headed goal ruled out by the offside flag, before a deflected shot from Ifill landed on the roof of the net.

Hernandez delivered the resulting corner in the first minute of stoppage time, and Cunningham met with as sweetly struck a volley as you’ll ever see – the ball fair flew past Janjetovic into the far corner to give Wellington an equaliser their efforts richly deserved.

Within seconds, they could have won it. Hernandez took a quick free-kick, and Ifill instantly sent Fenton scampering down the right on the overlap. His cross picked out Brockie, whose low volley fizzed inches past the near post.

Seconds later, Wellington lost it. Or, rather, ten-man Sydney delivered the ultimate sucker-punch, in the third minute of stoppage time. Carle was the catalyst, cleverly evading two challenges on half-way before bringing Terry McFlynn into play.

The veteran substitute played the ball wide to Ryall, who stormed up to join the attack and promptly worked a one-two with Garcia which left the central defender dashing into the penalty area.

He steered the ball across to Sydney’s new signing, and the unmarked figure of Despotovic, who had seen little of the ball since being introduced to the fray, instantly endeared himself to the local faithful by side-footing the ball beyond Moss’ despairing dive into the corner of the net.

Sydney’s 2-1 lead came under instant threat, with Wellington earning a corner straight from the resumption. Fenton’s delivery picked out Riera, whose volley was blocked to safety by the well-performed Nikola Petkovic, whose effort ensured the under-manned home team of an unlikely victory, their third in a row after a poor start to the campaign.

Match stats:
Crowd: 14,503

Sydney FC:  Janjetovic; Bojic (booked, 6, 73 – sent off), Ryall, Petkovic, Abbas; Emerton, Del Piero (McFlynn, 80), Carle (booked, 51); Chianese (Jurman, 76), Garcia, Naumoff (Despotovic, 67)

Wellington Phoenix FC:  Moss; Fenton, Sigmund, Durante, Caira (Riera, 72); Lia, Muscat (booked, 27), Hernandez, Hicks (Ifill, 58); Brockie, Huysegems (Cunningham, 67 (booked, 82))

Ratings and Points:

Referee: Jarred Gillett 3/10
Match 6/10
Pitch 7/10

Players points:
3. Seb Ryall (SFC)
2. Carlos Hernandez (WP)
1. Brett Emerton (SFC)

Photo: Stephen Webb      

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