Struggling sides mark New Year with Stalemate

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 12 – 2016/2017 – Round 13
7:35pm, Sunday 1 January, 2017 (New Years Day) – Westpac Stadium, NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 0
drew with
Adelaide United FC 0


Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United played out a scoreless draw in bleak wintry conditions on New Year’s Day at Westpac Stadium, with just 5,548 fans braving the elements to see these Hyundai A-League teams producing performances which reflected their respective lowly standings on the league table.

The first half, in particular, was decidedly uninspiring, with just three openings carved out in the first twenty-five minutes of play. Tarek Elrich fired the first shot in anger – a twenty yard drive – past the post in the eleventh minute, to which Wellington responded by forcing two saves from Eugene Galekovic.

The first of them was the result of a Ben Garuccio blunder half-way through the first half. Costa Barbarouses pounced on the ball in a flash, and drove forward, only to see his shot turned round the post by Adelaide’s captain, who saved a volley from Hamish Watson at his near post three minutes later.

Adelaide spurned a glorious chance to break the deadlock just shy of the half-hour mark. Elrich combined with Sergi Guardiola to carve open Wellington’s defence down the right, and the resulting low cross invited Nikola Mileusnic to steer home from six yards. But he skied his effort wildly over the bar, a shot which summed up the first half.

There were only two other opportunities before half-time, with Watson failing to get on the end of a Krishna cross in the 34th minute, while James Holland landed a speculative effort on the roof of Wellington’s net seconds before referee Matt Conger – he booked nine players in an at times testy encounter – blew the half-time whistle.

The second spell continued in similar vein to the first forty-five minutes initially, with just two further openings carved out before the hour mark. Barbarouses darted through in the 51st minute and worked a one-two with Watson, whose return pass lacked quality, and gave Galekovic the chance to save at the feet of the speedster, one the goalkeeper accomplished in style.

Six minutes later, the charging figure of Jacob Tratt combined with Barbarouses on the edge of the penalty area, the beneficiary of their work being Guilherme Finkler. His low cross was cleared by Taylor Regan, who had a super game at the heart of the Adelaide defence.

The game started to open up after the hour mark, in part due to a lack of quality on display. The ball took on all the properties of a hot potato at times, with neither side able to produce a concerted sustained spell of controlled possession nor accurate passing.

It makes one consider recent comments by Mark Bosnich about Wellington Phoenix’s value to the Hyundai A-League, and expand upon them, with a question along the lines of “At the half-way point in a ten-team league, why are six teams already out of the running as genuine title contenders?”

In other words, Wellington aren’t the only club which should be the subject of Bosnich’s ire. It’s easy to target the New Zealand-based entry, but there are five other clubs in his homeland which are under-performing every bit as much, the reigning champions being one of them.

Introducing the threat of relegation from the A-League (to a newly formed B-League, or Second Division competition) is the catalyst which will prompt all the under-performing clubs to collectively raise their game.

As things stand, too many teams are coasting, happy to rest on their laurels knowing that, barring disasters, their A-League licences are secure for the next two decades or so, a situation which is unhealthy for the game. Those teams’ fans – and the game as a whole – deserve better.

The final half-hour proved to be a lively affair, Wellington the first to threaten through Watson, whose 61st minute effort was pawed away by Galekovic, after Krishna and Tratt had combined again on the right.

Sixty seconds later, United threatened through half-time substitute Ryan Kitto, who smartly turned Marco Rossi on the edge of the area before lashing a sweetly struck shot on the turn a yard past the left-hand upright of the diving Glen Moss.

Wellington were denied a free-kick on the edge of the area in the 64th minute when Krishna’s jinking run was brought to an end by Dylan McGowan. Local referee Conger saw no foul, however, much to the frustration of the Wellington faithful, who were deprived of another chance to tear into one of their favourite hymns, “Same old Aussies, always cheating!”

They weren’t cheating in the 67th minute, however. Elrich produced the pass of the match to split Wellington’s defence and play in Henrique, who jinked inside Andrew Durante, only to run into the retreating figure of Tratt as he shaped to shoot.

Wellington responded by a slick move featuring Roly Bonevacia and Finkler, who brought Watson into play. But the striker again failed to produce the right ball for the occasion, his cross, intended for Krishna, being cleared in lunging fashion by Regan.

After Rossi had blocked a Holland shot, Wellington laid siege to the Adelaide goal in the final minutes of the match. Finkler directed an 86th minute header at Galekovic, after Moss’ goal-kick had released Krishna on the left, and the Fijian had picked out the midfielder with his cross to the far post.

Four minutes later, substitute Adam Parkhouse combined with Watson on the right. He evaded a challenge before his cross struck Regan and arced crazily past the far post, with Krishna a couple of strides away from making contact with the ball.

The resulting corner, delivered by Finkler, saw Watson’s shot cannon to safety off McGowan, while the playmaker was to be denied twice more before the final whistle, on both occasions by Galekovic.

The first was from a free-kick just outside the area, which Finkler curled round the wall, only to see Galekovic pull off an outstanding save low to his left. Parkhouse was first to the rebound, but could only direct his cross against the retreating figure of substitute Jordan O’Doherty.

Then, with seconds remaining on the clock, Finkler was afforded the chance to deliver another free-kick into the danger zone. His delivery rebounded off the defensive wall, but rebounded back to the Brazilian, whose ferocious volley was blocked to safety by Galekovic, whose efforts ensured his side of a point, although they remain firmly entrenched in last place, two spots below their hosts.

Match details

Crowd:  5,548

Wellington Phoenix FC:  Moss (gk) Tratt, Durante, Rossi, Doyle (booked, 65); Bonevacia (Rodriguez, 78), Lia (booked, 29), Finkler (booked, 71); Barbarouses (Parkhouse, 78), Watson, Krishna (booked, 37)
Interim joint Coaches:  Chris Greenacre & Des Buckingham

Adelaide United FC:  Galekovic; Elrich, McGowan (booked, 89), Regan, Garuccio (booked, 38); Isaias (booked, 72), Holland, Cirio (booked, 79); Henrique (booked, 63), Guardiola (Kitto, 46), Mileusnic (O’Doherty, 66)

Coach:  Guillermo Amor

Points and ratings

Match  5/10
Pitch  9/10

Referee  Matt Conger  5/10  

Player points:
3.  Galekovic
2.  Tratt
1.  Regan