Under-strength Wellington no match for leaders

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

Hyundai A-League – Season 14 – 2018/2019 – Round 17
7pm, 2 February, 2019 – East Perth Oval

Perth Glory FC 3 (Shane Lowry 19′, Chris Ikonomidis 35′, Andy Keogh 64′)
Wellington Phoenix FC 0


Hyundai A-League leaders Perth Glory made quick work of conquering an under-strength Wellington Phoenix combination at HBF Park on 2 February, easing the visitors aside 3-0 in front of 9,148 fans.

Wellington were without defensive lynchpins Andrew Durante (suspended) and Steven Taylor (ill), while midfielder Mandi Sosa’s elevation to fatherhood status is imminent, meaning he, too, sat out the contest, which effectively handed Perth the points before a ball had been kicked.

The table-toppers weren’t slow to take up their opponents’ offer, but not before surviving a genuine scare inside the first seventy seconds of play, which saw Liam Reddy gift possession to Roy Krishna.

He instantly played the ball inside to David Williams, whose initial shot was blocked by the alert Matthew Spiranovic. Williams swiveled on the rebound and unleashed a snapshot which crashed against the bar.

Perth were able to scramble the ball to safety, and from this point, proceeded to dominate the match, with Diego Castro creating all sorts of mayhem with his cunning and craft, the likes of which few other players in this competition boast.

In the sixth minute, his delicious chipped pass picked out Ivan Franjic, whose looping header was pawed out well by Filip Kurto, who was destined to have another night when he stood between Wellington and a heavy defeat.

Kurto required two bites to keep out a thirty-yarder from Castro soon after, his second successful save preventing Andy Keogh from pouncing on the opportunity presented by the ‘keeper’s initial parried effort.

Perth weren’t to be denied, however, and after Castro’s splendidly struck free-kick from just outside the area had been superbly pawed round the post by Kurto, the home team struck from Neil Kilkenny’s resulting corner, Shane Lowry stooping at the near post to send an unstoppable six-yard header crashing into the top corner – 1-0 after nineteen minutes.

Wellington looked to strike back from the kick-off, with a slick move involving Sarpreet Singh, Krishna, Liberato Cacace and Williams resulting in the Fijian striker directing a volley past the far post.

Normal service soon resumed, however, Castro producing a genuine “WOW! Did you see that?” moment in the 27th minute with a sublime piece of close control combined with speed of thought and movement to completely outwit Cacace and Michal Kopczynski near the by-line, then evade Tom Doyle’s challenge before laying the ball back to Franjic.

His measured cross to the far post picked out Keogh, whose bid to score his fiftieth goal for the club was tipped over the bar by Kurto, who was relieved to see a twenty-five yarder from Juande sizzle just past his right-hand post four minutes later.

After Kurto had again denied Keogh, this time following the promptings of Castro, Chris Ikonomidis and Juande, Perth doubled their lead ten minutes before half-time. Castro, Juande and the overlapping Jason Davidson combined on the left, with the fullback’s cross picking out Castro.

He unleashed a thumping volley which Kurto flew to his right to save, but he could only parry it straight to Ikonomidis, who gleefully headed the ball into the untended net – 2-0.

Once again, Wellington looked to hit back straight away, with Doyle’s dipping thirty-five yarder drawing a save from Reddy before his opposite number kept out an Ikonomidis drive.

Perth kept on coming, however, with Castro and Ikonomidis linking with the flying figure of Franjic, whose low cross sizzled across the six-yard box, just needing a touch from the too-slow-to-reach Keogh to turn it home.

Keogh had a goal ruled out by the offside flag on the stroke of half-time, and immediately after the interval Kurto saved his shot on the turn, a Kilkenny free-kick somehow reaching Keogh despite the attempts of two Wellington defenders to clear the sphere.

Ikonomidis and Franjic worked a one-two on the right in the 48th minute before Keogh was picked out with the resulting cross. His lay-off invited Davidson to unleash a curling effort which arced just past Kurto’s right-hand post.

Wellington enjoyed their best spell of the match just before the hour mark, but failed to truly trouble Reddy. The goalkeeper grabbed a teasing Singh cross intended for incoming attackers in the 51st minute, then was little troubled by a twenty-five yarder from Louis Fenton, whose 100th appearance for Wellington this was.

On the hour, Juande and Castro stepped things up from Perth’s perspective, and they combined to send Ikonomidis away down the right. From an acute angle, he hit the bar by the near post, and while Wellington cleared their lines on this occasion, they had no such luck in the 64th minute.

Although they should have had a free-kick! Alex Rufer’s first touch failed him, but as he attempted to recover possession he was tackled from behind by Juande. Referee Shaun Evans saw no offence, and the ball rolled invitingly into the stride of Keogh, who, from twenty-five yards, steered a shot into Kurto’s bottom right-hand corner to realise his goalscoring milestone – fifty goals for Perth Glory.

Wellington’s response to falling further behind mirrored the immediate aftermath of the earlier goals – they looked to strike back straight away. In the 67th minute, Shane Lowry blocked Krishna’s effort on the line after Kopczynski and Dylan Fox had teamed up, while sixty seconds later the crossbar denied a teasing cross-shot from Singh, as the visitors came again.

Castro’s departure from the fray twenty minutes from time to much of the sting out of Perth’s attacking forays, with Fox’s goal-line clearance from a Dino Djulbic header, following a Jake Brimmer corner five minutes from time, their only genuine threat on goal in the time remaining.

Wellington, meanwhile, kept on coming, with Reddy right behind a Rufer attempt before Williams squandered a glorious chance, Cacace and Cillian Sheridan having combined to set up the man who hit the crossbar inside the opening seventy seconds.

One suspects it wouldn’t have changed the destiny of the encounter, however, and even Wellington at full strength would have had trouble containing Perth on a day the league leaders had no intention of seeing their four-point lead at the top reduced with an adverse result in the “Distance Derby”.

Match details

Crowd: 9,148

Perth Glory FC: Reddy (gk); Franjic (Neville, 83), Djulbic, S. Lowry, Davidson; Kilkenny (Brimmer, 73), Spiranovic (booked, 77), Juande; Castro (Santalab, 70), Ikonomidis, Keogh

Wellington Phoenix FC: Kurto (gk); R. Lowry, Fox, Doyle (booked, 56) (Golec, 85); Fenton, Rufer, Kopczynski (Sheridan, 70), Cacace; Krishna, Singh, Williams (Burgess, 85)

Ratings and points

Referee: Referee: Shaun Evans 4/10

Match 6/10
Pitch 8/10

Players points:
3. Castro (PG)
2. Kurto (WP)
1. Ikonomidis (PG)