Melbourne City maul woeful Wellington

by Jeremy Ruane
with the compliments of

Hyundai A-League – Season 12 – 2016/2017 – Round 20
7:35pm, Saturday 18 February, 2017 –  Westpac Stadium, Wellington NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 1 (Barbarouses 70′)
lost to
Melbourne City FC 5 (Fornaroli 29′, Caceres 59′, Kilkenny 82′, Colazo 87′)

Wellington Phoenix’s stuttering Hyundai A-League season plunged to a new low at Westpac Stadium on February 18, as, in front of 6,131 subdued fans, the woeful locals were mauled 5-1 by Melbourne City, who climbed into third place thanks to this triumph.

Yet things could have been so different had the home team turned their early dominance of the contest into goals – and they certainly had the chances to do so. In just the third minute, Costa Barbarouses’ buccaneering run on the right resulted in a low cross to the near post which Roy Krishna, who had released his team-mate to start the move, was unable to direct on target from close range.

Nine minutes later, Barbarouses burst through again, this time feeding Roly Bonevacia, who evaded two opponents only to lose control of the ball. Fortunately for Wellington, help was at hand in the form of Krishna, whose low drive was diverted round his near post by Thomas Sorensen.

Two minutes further into the match, referee Jonathan Barreiro was pointing to the penalty spot, former Wellington defender Manny Muscat having tripped Barbarouses as he cut into the area off the left flank.

The offended party picked himself, dusted himself down, plonked the ball on the spot and proceeded to send Sorensen the wrong way, only to see his spot-kick ricochet skywards off the crossbar, and to subsequent safety from City’s perspective.

The visitors had enjoyed the better of possession at this point, but it was Wellington who were carving out all the chances, the next one of which materialised in the nineteenth minute.

Krishna was fouled on the edge of the area by Osama Malik, but Bonevacia, following up, latched onto the loose ball and burst into the area before deftly dinking the ball beyond Sorensen. Sadly for the Dutchman, it bounced the wrong side of the post.

From the resulting goal kick, City went straight down the other end of the park and opened the scoring. Captain Anthony Caceres led the charge, timing his pass to perfection to send the full-of-running Nick Fitzgerald through the offside trap and to the by-line, from where his pull-back was inadvertently deflected into his own net by the retreating figure of Ryan Lowry.

Wellington looked to get back on level terms straight away, with Krishna’s looping header arcing over the bar after City failed to clear an Alex Rodriguez corner. But with Matthew Ridenton, Thomas Doyle and Bruno Fornaroli all suffering injuries which required lengthy on-field treatment during the opening half-hour, the home team were unable to maintain their early momentum.

They paid the price for it in the 29th minute, as Melbourne doubled their advantage. Glen Moss handled the ball just outside his area, presenting Luke Brattan with a free-kick opportunity.

His low delivery invited Muscat to let fly against his old club, but he miscued his effort. Fortunately for City, it fell perfectly for the now recovered figure of Fornaroli to swivel and volley home from six yards – 2-0.

There was no way back for Wellington from this, and the resulting lack of confidence in their play was reflected in the stands, where the usually boisterous Wellington fans seemed consigned to defeat long before the half-time whistle, let alone the final one.

Melbourne duly held court, with a Brattan corner ten minutes before half-time creating havoc aplenty before Ridenton got rid. The charging figure of Fornaroli saw Moss turn his shot on the run to safety three minutes later, while on the stroke of half-time, Brattan sent one flying over the bar after Caceres, Fernando Brandan and the prolific Fornaroli had combined following a quickly taken free-kick.

Seconds into the second half, Malik should have been shown a red card for a cynical knee-high lunging challenge on Krishna, as the speedster raced past the defender on half-way, near the left-hand touchline.

Referee Barreiro only issued a yellow card, however, with the error of his ways being underlined minutes later with the sight of Krishna unable to continue and having to be substituted as a result of the injury Malik inflicted upon him in this challenge.

As if Wellington didn’t have enough to contend with, they conceded a third goal on the hour. Brandan picked out Joshua Rose hurtling down the left, the fullback getting to the by-line from where he sent the ball zooming across the six yard box, inviting Caceres, arriving on the far post, to pick his spot beyond Moss.
Doyle was fortunate to escape a booking for a double-footed lunge on Muscat soon after, although Muscat was fortunate to still be on the park following his elbow-led challenge on Doyle in the first half which left the Wellington fullback seeing stars temporarily.

Twenty minutes from time, Barbarouses gave Wellington’s fans something to savour with a splendid solo goal. Darting down the left, he nutmegged Muscat as he scythed into the penalty area, then wrong-footed Brattan in like manner before administering the coup de grace – a low drive through the legs of Sorensen to register the goal of the game, and inspire the home team to offer some attacking resistance.

After a super Melbourne move sparked by Caceres’ swashbuckling run past three opponents, and culminating in Fitzgerald’s cross from the by-line being volleyed over from twelve yards by Fornaroli, Wellington went close via a couple of Bonevacia corners, with headers from Lowry and Doyle flying either side of Sorensen’s posts.

The Danish goalkeeper then smothered a shot on the run from Doyle, after which City held sway for the duration. Fitzgerald had enjoyed a terrific game, and when he swept past Adam Parkhouse to the by-line in the 81st minute, it looked tailor-made for substitute Nicolas Colazo to add a fourth Melbourne goal.

Lowry cleared the sphere off his toes to thwart him on this occasion, but within sixty seconds, the visitors were celebrating their fourth of the night. Vince Lia’s clearance went straight to Noel Kilkenny, who muscled his way through a couple of challenges before tucking the ball home beyond Moss – 4-1.

Three minutes from time, Wellington conceded a fifth goal on home soil for just the third time in their history. Fitzgerald and Kilkenny combined on the right to do the spadework, with Colazo’s unerring finish rewarding their industry in the desired manner.

They nearly had a sixth goal in stoppage time, and there wouldn’t have been a more deserving scorer had Fitzgerald’s effort been on target. He surged forward from half-way and took on the defence before directing his drive past the far post.

5-1 was more than suffice to fire Melbourne into third place on goal difference, however. The debut of youngster Sarpreet Singh off the bench apart, however, what it means for Wellington … a year ago, their fans were calling for ‘ten more years’ from Football Federation Australia, who duly gave them a conditional licence extension.

With displays of this ilk, however, combined with their continuing low crowd numbers – they are averaging just over 6,000 fans per match this season, with only the opening game of the campaign breaking the five-figure barrier – one can only wonder how long the FFA’s patience with the inconsistently performed Wellington Phoenix is going to last before they act on critics’ calls to pull the plug on the Kiwi entry.

It is plainly obvious that the first task of any new coaching appointment will involve undertaking a serious overhaul of the playing roster if Wellington are to be consistently competitive in the A-League from next season onwards, as too many of the incumbents simply aren’t up to the standards expected at this level.

And they will have to deliver success virtually instantly, otherwise the minimum four-year A-League licence which the club currently enjoys may end up being its last.

Match details

Crowd:  6,131

Wellington Phoenix FC:       Moss (gk);  Ridenton, Lowry, Rossi, Doyle (Parkhouse, 81); Lia, Bonevacia, Rodriguez (Singh, 66); Barbarouses, Watson, Krishna (Smeltz, 54 (booked, 75))

Melbourne City FC:   Sorensen (gk); Muscat (booked, 40), Malik (booked, 46), Tongyik, Rose; Caceres (booked, 8) (Retre, 88), Kilkenny, Brattan; Fitzgerald, Fornaroli (Cahill, 86), Brandan (Colazo, 74)

Points and ratings

Referee    Jonathan Barreiro  4/10

Match  6/10
Pitch  8/10

3.  Fitzgerald (MC)
2.  Caceres (MC)
1.  Brandan (MC)