Melbourne bring an end to Wellington’s season

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 10 – Finals Series – Elimination Semi-Final No. 2
5pm, Sunday 3 May, 2015 – Westpac Stadium, Wellington NZ

Wellington phoenix FC 0
lost to
Melbourne City FC 2 (Kennedy 61′, Novillo 72′)

Wellington Phoenix’s hopes of scoring a maiden Hyundai A-League title were dashed at the first hurdle at Westpac Stadium on 3 May, as Melbourne City prevailed 2-0 in their play-off encounter to set up a semi-final against cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory.

A cagey affair unfolded in front of 10,171 spectators, who groaned in despair as Nathan Burns’ twenty-five yarder fizzed past the post in the third minute, the only shot of consequence fired by either side in the first twenty-five minutes of play.

The closest City came to breaking the deadlock in that time saw David Williams’ charging sixth minute run curtailed by a timely Andrew Durante tackle. Twenty minutes later, however, only Michael Boxall’s headed goal-line clearance kept the home team on level terms, Harry Novillo denied after a slick short corner routine caught Wellington off-guard.

The home team’s response was instant, and culminated in Vince Lia being fouled just outside the penalty area. Michael McGlinchey unleashed a gem of an up-and-down free-kick over the defensive wall, only to see his effort crash to safety off the crossbar.

The game was crying out for a goal by this time, but Glen Moss certainly wasn’t interested in being the ‘keeper to concede it. Two more attempts by Novillo to break the deadlock foundered on the form of Wellington’s custodian, the first of them created by Aaron Mooy, who had a terrific match for the visitors.

Louis Fenton spurned two chances to break the deadlock in the minutes leading up to half-time, blazing the first of them over the bar from the edge of the penalty area after Lia’s quickly taken free-kick had released Burns in space on the right.

The newly crowned A-League Player of the Year was also at the heart of the second chance, Burns nutmegging Connor Chapman before feeding Fenton, whose tame cross-shot allowed Tando Velaphi to dirty his gloves for the first time in the match.

Wellington started the second half in strong form, with Albert Riera and Roly Bonevacia combining to play Burns in through the inside right channel in the 49th minute.

McGlinchey was racing through the inside left channel in support, and this put Burns in two minds re shooting or crossing. The end product was somewhere betwixt and between, the ball spearing across goal and past the far post when Burns would surely have scored had he been single-minded and gone for goal himself.

It was a miss which was to prove crucial. Melbourne weathered the storm, then came back hard at their hosts, around the hour mark. A lovely move on the left featuring Novillo, Robert Koren and Jonatan Germano culminated in the last-mentioned delivering a teasing cross to the far post which Josh Kennedy poked past the upright at full stretch.

Seconds later, another teasing cross from Germano saw Kennedy go even closer to breaking the deadlock with a glancing header. But the big target man didn’t have long to wait – it was a case of third time lucky in the 61st minute, much to City’s delight.

Ironically, the goal which put the visitors in the box seat began via a Wellington attack. Substitute Roy Krishna led the raid before playing in Burns, whose shot was blocked by Patrick Kisnorbo.

The ball rebounded to Koren, who led the charge downfield with Novillo in support. The Frenchman received the sphere in due course, but was held out by the fast-retreating Wellington rearguard.

The ball then broke to Mooy, who unleashed a low drive through the crowded goalmouth which the diving figure of Moss had covered. Kennedy instinctively stuck out a foot to divert the trajectory of the sphere, and in doing so put Melbourne on course for the semi-finals – 1-0 after 61 minutes.

Wellington were reeling, and could have been two goals down two minutes later when Koren unleashed a shot on the turn following a cross from Williams. Ben Sigmund blocked the effort, and Boxall completed the clearance.

Three minutes later, the homem team spurned a glorious chance to level the scores. Lia, Burns and Fenton combined with Krishna, whose cross deflected into the path of the unmarked figure of Burns. Wellington’s leading scorer directed his header straight at Velaphi – had he scored …

Instead, it was Melbourne who had that honour eighteen minutes from time, again via a counter-attack. Koren led the charge before delivering a deep cross to Novillo, who checked inside before shooting.

The ball ricocheted off Sigmund onto the post, rebounding off the woodwork onto the head of the diving figure of Moss, then into the net – the unluckiest of own goals, but one which meant there was no way back for Wellington.

A season in which the home team has recorded so many positives – club records for most goals scored and fewest bookings received in a season, at least one victory over each of the other nine teams during the course of the campaign, the hitherto unknown heights of first place – was ending miserably, a fourth home defeat from the last five games at Westpac Stadium imminent. Unless …

They left it late, but they had chances to square the ledger. But once Velaphi smothered Burns’ drive, after Riera, Kenny Cunningham and Krishna had combined, and Erik Paartalu had cleared Cunningham’s driven cross off the line, referee Ben Williams brought the curtain down on Wellington’s campaign, to the delight of the Melbourne City squad, for whom the A-League semi-finals were now a reality.

Match details

Crowd: 10,171

Wellington Phoenix FC:     Moss (gk); Boxall, Sigmund (booked, 70), Durante, Muscat; Fenton (Cunningham, 77), Riera, Lia (Rodriguez, 77); Burns, McGlinchey (Krishna, 58), Bonevacia

Coach: Ernie Merrick

Melbourne City FC:    Velaphi (gk); Chapman, Paartalu (booked, 42), Kisnorbo; Retre, Koren, Mooy, Germano; Williams, Kennedy (Marino, 83 (booked, 85), Novillo (Murdocca, 90)

Coach:  John van ‘t Schip

Points and ratings

Match  5/10
Pitch  7/10
Referee:    Ben Williams   5/10

3.  Mooy (MC)
2.  Williams (MC)
1.  Kisnorbo (MC)