Milestone For Merrick As Wellington Climb To Sixth
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by Jeremy Ruane
Despite missing half their regular starting eleven due to international commitments, Wellington Phoenix scored a courageous 2-0 win over Central Coast Mariners at Canberra's GIO Stadium on November 12 to climb to sixth place on the Hyundai A-League ladder.
A lively opening quarter-hour saw both teams have chances to open the scoring inside the first three minutes. Matthew Ridenton's mis-timed clearance went straight to Blake Powell, who threaded a pass through to Fabio Ferreira which allowed the speedster to hit a teasing cross-shot just past Lewis Italiano's far post, much to the 'keeper's relief.
From the resulting goal kick, Roly Bonevacia slipped a pass into the stride of Hamish Watson, who did all the hard work well when evading two challenges in the penalty area, only to bottle a great chance to open the scoring by shooting straight at Paul Iggo from six yards out.
Central Coast's custodian was a very relieved figure on this occasion, and he was to be so again three minutes later. Scott Galloway - an early injury casualty - directed a pass straight to Roy Krishna, who raced past Jake McGing into the penalty area before unleashing a drive which Iggo turned round his near post.
Back came the Australian side, a quick throw-in inviting Ferreira to get in a cross just before the ball crossed the by-line. His delivery picked out Connor Pain, who met the ball flush on the volley but was unable to direct his effort on target.
After Krishna had been denied a goal by an offside flag against Watson, who provided the pass from which the Fijian found the net, Ferreira rifled a shot over the bar from fifteen yards after beating three players upon receipt of another pass from Powell.
It was all happening in the thirteenth minute, with Krishna charging past two opponents in the penalty area before playing the ball inside to Gui Finkler. He went down under pressure, but the ball spilled loose to Bonevacia, who fair battered a shot at the target which Iggo could only parry.
Central Coast cleared their lines following this, after which the game dissolved into a bit of an arm wrestle over the course of the next twenty minutes, with neither team able to gain the upper hand.
That all changed nine minutes before half-time, when Bonevacia picked out Watson on the left once more. This time, the striker evaded a challenge and went for goal himself, only for Iggo to parry his effort to safety.
Respite was brief for Iggo, however, for after Wellington debutant Ryan Lowry headed over his own crossbar to prevent a Ferreira cross from finding its way to Roy O'Donovan, the visitors went desperately close to opening the scoring three minutes before half-time.
Finkler was presented the chance to cause a bit of mayhem with a thirty yard free-kick wide on the right. He didn't disappoint, curling his effort round the wall and with such pace that it left Iggo beaten all ends up at his near post, the base of which was struck by the shot.
Central Coast survived that close call, but four minutes into the second half, they were undone by the pace and skill of Krishna, who latched onto a through ball from Watson, outpaced substitute Michael Neill then rounded the advancing figure of Iggo before tucking the ball home from an acute angle.
Wellington's delight swiftly transformed into a desire to double their advantage. And after Iggo had saved at the feet of Watson, who was put through by a splendid pass from Finkler, and the goalkeeper had held onto a cross-shot from Watson at the second attempt as Finkler and Krishna hovered hungrily, the visitors made it 2-0 in the 56th minute.
Krishna and Finkler worked a one-two on the right which saw the playmaker's perfectly weighted pass present the speedster with the chance to outpace McGing before luring Iggo out of goal in order to set up Watson for a far post tap-in.
The hosts were far from happy, and Pain led the protests two minutes later after he went down in the goalmouth following a Central Coast corner. Referee Stephen Lucas, whose performance can most kindly be described as adequate, wasn't having a bar of their complaints, and promptly awarded another corner.
This resulted in a splendid piece of skill in the penalty area from O'Donovan, whose close control and sharp turn unhinged the covering figure of Marco Rossi. The resulting volley narrowly cleared the crossbar - had it gone in, you can guarantee this would have been a 'goal of the month' contender, such was the technical quality involved.
Central Coast continued to press for a way back into the contest, with Lowry and Italiano combining to frustrate Ferreira in the 65th minute, before Wellington came roaring back to remind their hosts that a third goal wasn't out of the question.
Alex Rodriguez worked the ball down the left for Krishna, who led the luckless McGing a merry dance before rattling the near post side-netting, after which Bonevacia and Watson led the charge in a 72nd minute raid which culminated in Central Coast defender Jacques Faty requiring strapping aplenty on his knee to see out the game, with his side having just introduced their third substitute to the contest.
The final fifteen minutes saw Central Coast pressing hard for a way back into the match, only for Wellington to repel them at every turn. Italiano pulled off a superb one-handed save low to his right to deny O'Donovan after substitute Trent Buhagiar had made in-roads on the right.
The 'keeper then made a meal of Liam Rose's hanging cross, but no-one in yellow could capitalise, while both O'Donovan and Storm Roux went close to halving the deficit before the final whistle marked Wellington coach Ernie Merrick's 100th win in A-League football - the first coach to reach the milestone.
Central Coast: Iggo; Roux, Faty, McGing, Galloway (Neill, 23); Tavares, Powell (Rose, 63), Montgomery (booked, 66); Ferreira (Buhagiar, 71), O'Donovan, Pain.
Wellington: Italiano; Tratt, Lowry, Rossi, Ridenton; Lia (booked, 90), Finkler (Rufer, 86), Rodriguez; Bonevacia (booked, 45), Watson (Litfin, 88), Krishna.
Referee: Stephen Lucas.