You must score goals to win matches

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

Sydney Football Stadium – Sunday 21st December 2014

Lost to
WELLINGTON PHOENIX FC 2 (Nathan Burns 73′, 81′)

No matter how well you play you must score goals to win matches and players and coaches have always known this.

But often that’s easier said than done, as Sydney FC and their coach Graham Arnold discovered last Sunday when Wellington Phoenix dropped by from across the Tasman Sea and stole away with all three points, despite adopting no more than a holding pattern for the first-half of a game which opened up for them considerably after the break.

Admittedly, Sydney FC were left short of playing resources after a spate of season-terminating injuries and had captain Alex Brosque pulling the pin on the morning of the match, due to a groin injury flare-up, but judging by the way the remaining members of the squad played before the break, they had more than enough depth to cover for the absence of all of those players, as well as big stopper Sasa Ognanovksi, whose hip injury has now put him out for the season as well.

Phoenix goalkeeper, Glen Moss, recently signed a new extended contract for his club and the long-time A League player certainly rewarded that decision with a string of important saves in the first-half to deny a rampant Sky Blues side, whose football was fluid and whose players were creating no end of problems for their opponents, especially on the left flank, where Berni Ibini was enjoying a field day.

Former Phoenix striker and New Zealand international, Shane Smeltz, helped to provide a potent front-line alongside lanky Austrian Mark Janko, a pairing which could, and probably should, have put Wellington out of the game.

Neither player could deliver a goal, however, though without a doubt Moss had a lot to do with that, as did the defensive efforts of a Phoenix rearguard well-marshalled by skipper,Andrew Durante, who knew a thing or two about Smeltz.

“He’s been playing well and is still quite a handful,” admitted Durante post-match as he gathered with his extended family to celebrate the victory his side eventually claimed, thanks to two late goals from newly-reinstated Soccerooo, Nathan Burns.

“The other guy was hard to play against as well,” said the skipper, referring to Janko.

“I’ve been here many times since I joined the club and this is the second time we’ve won here during my time at the club and it’s a good result for us.

If it was the defence that kept Smeltz and Janko at bay, it was certainly the midfield that swung the game in the Kiwis’ favour.

They’d done well, creatively, in the first-half, though often out-muscled by another Socceroo, Terry Antonis, whose Balkan team-mate Milos Dimetrijevic was not too shabby either.

The New Zealanders had Michael McGlinchey on song, as well as their other imports such as Spaniard, Alex Rodriguez, as well as his talented compatriot, Albert Riera and Dutchman, Roly Bonevacia and it was in that area that the game was won, though Sydney FC boss Arnold might disagree.

“We made one shocking mistake in defence to concede the first goal, then we didn’t pick up at all and could not recover,” he said after the match.

The heads dropped and we never recovered from the setback like I thought we would. I’m not sure what that was,” he pondered.

“We lost Alex Brosque before the game, which was a blow and now it looks as if Ognanovski will be out for the season too, but that’s no excuse.

“If there are players in the team who aren’t fighting, then I’ll bring others in who are,” he said, without saying there were necessarily some like that in this game, when questioned about it, further.

The transfer window is open next month and everyone expects the club to find replacements for the injured quartet, as well as looking at freshening up the squad which has gone off the boil in recent weeks.

Having held sway in the middle in the first half Antonis and Dimetrejevic found things a little tougher in the second period, as Wellington coach Ernie Merrick changed things around a little.

“We had a game plan, but it didn’t work at all in the first half,” he said.

Merrick neglected to mention one moment which could have seen his team going a goal up even before half-time. A defence-splitting pass delivered by McGlinchey, set up Krishna, who made a darting run that fell foul of an apparently inattentive assistant-referee, who raised the flag a little late, after the Fijian had dashed through with a perfectly-timed run to slot past Vedran Janjetovic.

The will-o-the-wisp Bonevacia, who appeared to revel in a free role, had almost opened the scoring not long before that, with a shot that whistled past the far post.

“We made changes at the break to address that and we managed to keep them quiet and score two goals.

“I said to my players in the dressing room that if any of them could score three goals today I’d give them $100 out of my own pocket.

“Then ‘Burnsy’ scored two in eight minutes near the end and I began to get a little worried,” said the affable Scot.

“So I quickly pulled him off!,” he laughed.

That quip was typical Merrick, as was his normal candour.

Asked if it was part of his revised plan for Burns to operate more on the left than the right, a ploy which certainly paid dividends, he responded right away.

“I had nothing to do with that. The players decided among themselves,” he acknowledged.

Of course it’s common for striking partners to switch flanks throughout a match, as we know, but the recently prolific Burns had done much of his running down the right in the opening period and chose to attack more down the opposite flank in the latter stages.

The way he breezed past a somewhat static Pej Bojic and Sebastian Ryall to make enough room for himself to open the scoring was all class.

He gave first Bojic and then his back-up man, Ryall, the slip before turning sharply and beating the keeper at the near post with as good a striker’s finish as you’ll see.

McGlinchey had set Burns free with a long, raking pass and he was to be the provider once again as he laid on the pass for the in-form Roy Krishna to relay to Burns to double his team’s advantage eight minutes later.

As a former member of ‘Arnie’s Army’ at Central Coast, McGinchey’s talents were well-known to the Sydney FC coach, but there was little the home team coach could do, even with his own midfield operating quite efficiently for most of the game.

Merrrick was effusive in his praise and while agreeing that Burns had done enough to earn a Socceroos’ recall, reserved his warmest praise for his mid-fielders, McGlinchey as much as any of the others.

“Some of his passes were of a very high quality” he said.

“He had a big part to play in this victory, but  the whole team did well.

“Whenever we’ve come up against a side above us on the ladder in our away games we’ve always fallen short until now.

“Let’s hope it continues and I notice that we’ve now climbed to fourth, which is most pleasing.

Arnold’s woes won’t be over, just yet, as the January transfer window and the Asian Cup-break won’t be here for another couple of weeks.

His side faces Adelaide United next on Boxing Day at home and while the Reds have lost their last two A League matches, their FFA Cup Final win over Perth Glory sandwiched in between those losses showed that they had lost little of their lustre.

They’ll pose a hard task for Arnold’s men, as he considers another reshuffle of his diminishing resources. His team did not play badly against Wellington and produced some of their best football in a while, something they also did the previous week when drawing 3-3 with Melbourne Victory in Melbourne.

Just as in that game down South, defensive errors cost them big and they do need to sort that out before they meet Adelaide, who are an attack-minded team, with plenty of creative flair, attributes they share with Phoenix these days.

Match details

Official Attendance  14,672

Sydney FC:
Janjetovic (gk); Bojic (Calver, 83), Ryall, Petkovic, Gersbach (Triantis, 77); Dimitrijevic, Smeltz, Antonis; Grant (Naumoff, 79), Janko, Ibini-Isei

Wellington Phoenix FC:
Moss (gk); Fenton (Boxall, 84), Sigmund, Durante, Doyle; Rodriguez, Riera, Bonevacia; Burns (Cunningham, 90), McGlinchey, Krishna (Brockie, 90)
Ratings and points
Player points:

2 Michael McGlinchey
2 Andrew Durante
2 Terry Antonis

Match 8/10
Pitch 7/10
Referee: Shaun Evans 8/10
Photos Stephen Webb: