Dubious officiating helps City edge Wellington

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

Hyundai A-League – Season 12 – 2016/2017 – Round 8
7:30pm, Sunday 27 November, 2016 – Melbourne Football Stadium

Melbourne City FC 2  (Fitzgerald 44′, Fornaroli 71′)
Wellington Phoenix FC 1 (R. Krishna 59′)

Some decidedly dubious officiating from “home team” referee Kurt Ams was the prime talking point at AAMI Park on November 27, as Melbourne City overcame Wellington Phoenix 2-1 in front of 10,644 fans.

The locals were on the front foot from the outset, fullback Ivan Franjic galloping down the right before whipping in a cross intended for Neil Kilkenny. Alex Rodriguez was tracking his run, however, and nipped in to steer the ball narrowly past his own post within thirty seconds of the kick-off.

Wellington survived the resulting corner, and in the fifth minute produced their first attack of the contest. Guilherme Finkler worked a one-two with Adam Parkhouse before drifting inside two opponents and slipping a pass through for Costa Barbarouses.

The offside flag came to Melbourne’s aid on this occasion, while it was the lenience of referee Ams which aided their cause throughout the match, the official only seeing fit to book three City players inside the last ten minutes of the contest, despite the fact Finkler’s legs had been fair game for fouls aplenty – including a few crude ones – throughout proceedings.

By the time the first City name had gone into the book, six Wellington players had been shown the yellow card by the officious – and, one can’t help but suggest, biased – Ams, who certainly did nothing to dispel the impression that he’s a “home team” referee.

On the other occasion Ams has taken charge of a Wellington game this season, it was at Westpac Stadium, and Sydney FC had five players booked before a Phoenix player was first shown a yellow card in that match. Travelling teams, when you see Kurt Ams named as your match referee, be on your very best behaviour. And then some!

Melbourne held the upper hand for the majority of the first half, forcing the first save from Glen Moss in the seventh minute. Bruno Fornaroli and Fernando Brandan combined on the left for Luke Brattan’s benefit.

Moss blocked the danger at close quarters for a corner, from which City again threatened through Brattan. This time, he picked out Fornaroli with a cross, but Andrew Durante blocked the striker’s shot to safety.

Both teams had decent penalty claims turned down by referee Ams before the quarter hour, with Roy Krishna the aggrieved party for Wellington, goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis appearing to impede the striker as he stole in, looking to pounce on a back-pass in the twelfth minute.

Two minutes later, Barbarouses was fended off by Nick Fitzgerald in Wellington’s penalty area, but the striker’s acute-angled retaliatory tackle brought the City midfielder to earth. The visitors were fortunate on this occasion that the referee had seen Fitzgerald’s offence first.

After Moss had denied Fitzgerald in the twentieth minute, after Fornaroli and overlapping fullback Joshua Rose had combined on the left, Durante produced another vital block to thwart Anthony Caceres’ shot from the edge of the area.

A rare Wellington counter-attack was led by Finkler in the 23rd minute, his through ball releasing Barbarouses through the offside trap. But an untimely slip by the striker made life easy for Bouzanis, allowing normal service – City pressure by the bucket load – to resume.

Fornaroli and Brattan combined once more on the half-hour, with the Uruguayan unable to capitalise on this particular opening, while Moss thwarted Fitzgerald once more soon after.

Further evidence against referee Ams arose in the 43rd minute, when Franjic was guilty of taking out Krishna in an incident which, staggeringly, went unpunished by the official.

The visitors were struggling to comprehend how a free-kick could not be given as City stormed upfield, and promptly opened the scoring inside the next sixty seconds. Fitzgerald it was who did the damage, albeit with a healthy deflection off Marco Rossi which diverted the ball over the flailing fingertips of the unfortunate Moss.

Wellington coach Ernie Merrick’s wisdom certainly had the desired effect from the visitors’ perspective in the second spell, as they were on top of things from the start of the second spell, and were only denied a 51st minute equaliser when Bouzanis tipped Finkler’s curling twenty-yarder round the post, following the good work of Parkhouse and Barbarouses on the left.

Seven minutes later, Wellington were presented with the chance to level the scores from the penalty spot – not even referee Ams could turn a blind eye to Franjic blatantly hauling down Barbarouses as the latter raced past him into the area.

Quite how the fullback could even contemplate claiming his innocence suggests that he’s either blissfully unaware that such tactics haven’t been eligible since Noah wore desert wellies, or he’s simply a very silly boy! (Stronger words aren’t appropriate – this is, after all, for reading by a general audience!)

Up stepped Krishna, Wellington’s leading marksman, who has potted a few spot-kicks this season. This, however, wasn’t one of them, for Bouzanis dived to his right to save. But to the angst of the ‘keeper, the ball rebounded straight back to the Fijian, who made no mistake second time round – 1-1 after 59 minutes.

Ten minutes later, referee Ams was up to his tricks again, this time pointing to the penalty spot at the other end of the park after deeming that Rossi had fouled Fornaroli in an incident which could just as easily have seen a defensive free-kick awarded, such was the striker’s grip on the defender’s shirt.

Wellington were seething by this stage, Durante in particular, with the official’s inconsistency and evident “home team” favouritism – he’d been booking Wellington players for fouls which Melbourne players had also been committing, but for which a free-kick was deemed suffice.

Sure enough, he was booked for leading the protests. Once order had been restored, Fornaroli fired home the penalty to restore City’s lead – on the balance of play in this half, it was an advantage they scarcely deserved.

Both goalkeepers were called upon to maintain that 2-1 scoreline in the next five minutes. Bouzanis pawed out a Rodriguez cross as Finkler led the charge downfield straight from the kick-off, while minutes later, it was Moss’ turn to cut out a Rose cross intended for the fast-arriving Tim Cahill, as he homed in on the near post.

The visitors continued to attack, with Jacob Tratt featuring in their forward forays in the last ten minutes. He dodged a bullet three minutes from time, however, after making a meal of dealing with a low cross from Fitzgerald with Nicolas Colazo breathing down his neck.

Back came Wellington, Barbarouses leading the charge before feeding substitute Hamish Watson, whose low cross to the far post found Durante sliding in, just a stride away from turning it home.

It was the visitors’ penultimate chance, with the final one coming moments later, as Bouzanis grabbed a Matthew Ridenton header at his near post after Rodriguez had picked out the late replacement with a well-flighted free-kick.

City held onto their 2-1 advantage, a win which saw them close the gap on leaders Sydney to four points. But they were nowhere near as deserving of the points as they were in the opening game of the season in Wellington – no doubt they’re pleased that Mr Ams wasn’t on duty in New Zealand’s capital on that particular occasion!

Match details

Crowd:  10,644

Melbourne City FC:  Bouzanis (gk); Franjic, Chapman (booked, 88), Jakobsen, Rose; Caceres, Kilkenny (booked, 83), Brattan (Colazo, 76 (booked, 81)); Fitzgerald, Fornaroli (Kamau, 79), Brandan (Cahill, 66)

Coach:  John van’t Schip

Wellington Phoenix FC:  Moss (gk); Tratt (booked, 65), Durante (booked, 69), Rossi (booked, 69), Parkhouse (booked, 72) (Fenton, 72); Bonevacia (Watson, 83), Lia, Rodriguez (booked, 39); Krishna, Finkler (booked, 67) (Ridenton, 86), Barbarouses

Coach:  Ernie Merrick

Points and ratings

Match  5/10
Pitch  8/10

Referee  Kurt Ams    1/10  – he turned up!   

Players points:
3. Fitzgerald (MC)
2. Durante (WP)
1. Moss (WP)