The Phoenix Finally Won Another Game! Rejoice!

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See, there you go. All it took for the Welly Nix to finally win another game was a controversial early red card to an opposition defender, a couple early subs bringing on high profile new signings, roughly 90% of the goal-scoring chances at home, a remarkably sloppy goal conceded on the brink of half-time just to keep them on their toes, a majority of possession, a couple goals disallowed for offside, an equaliser thanks to a goalkeeping error and then an 83rd minute own goal for the win. Phew. Now if they can just recreate that formula every week…

There were a few talking points that came outta that Wednesday night trip to the torture rack but first off it’s worth taking a second to breathe a very loud sigh of relief for the Nix finally winning their second game of the season. Drags them up to 10 points from 14 games, only three behind Brisbane Roar with a game in hand and two goals worse in the GD column. Only eight points behind sixth place Western Sydney Wanderers, who the Nix play at the Cake Tin on the weekend.

They’ve been an odd team to watch and Dario went Peak-Kalezic in this game, getting ultra-weird with some tactical stuff. But it’s all been in desperation for that next win and, after seven games without one, they managed to put three points on the board against Melbourne Victory. That’s worth celebrating. These moments haven’t happened too often. With the Nix in the state that they’re in, all that matters is the end result and this one justified all the strangeness that proceeded it.

The VAR thing. Like… there’s a very legit reason to say it deserved a red card. Looked like the last man, appeared to deny a goal-scoring opportunity, didn’t make a legit play at the ball. You can also argue that Kaludjerovic had taken a weak touch and was moving at a snail’s pace towards the goal and might have been overtaken if Rhys Williams had only stayed on his feet. That doesn’t take away from a poor decision from Williams to dive in and the VAR call can pretty much be justified in that. It does show why the ref might’ve played that one safe though, opting for the initial yellow card.

Kevin Muscat didn’t argue, neither did Mark Milligan. Not with the decision at least. The problem was with the way that the Video Assistant Referee was used. The entire game stopped for multiple minutes, everyone just standing around, while the ref took a few peeks at a screen on the sideline. This thing isn’t supposed to derail the game like that, we were promised better. Once again the problem isn’t the technology but the idiots running and implementing it – they had VAR in the League Cup semis in England this week and it wasn’t nearly so unhinged. No dramas with the idea but it needs to be so much quicker.

Also, when the ref’s overruling a call against one team, the other can sometimes get feisty like they’ve had something stolen from them and thus become a little too demanding (*cough* BERISHA *cough*). Not that that’s a slight on the VAR – all it takes is for a ref to actually sharpen up and stop accepting that kinda backchat with a quick yellow and it’s no longer a problem. Abuse of officials is so petty, so ugly to watch, such a bad look for the sport… so why isn’t it being taken more seriously? If you snap at the ref in the NFL or NBA then you’re not playing another second of that game, and those refs make even more mistakes than A-League ones.

Last week Kalezic subbed off Roy Krishna with a 1-0 lead and the Phoenix ended up losing 2-1. They got rid of their best counter-attacking option and, without that outlet, they were unable to kill off the game and unable to withstand the pressure that came back at them, pressure that was long since swelling before Krishna was replaced. This week Kalezic made a couple other odd subs. First was responding to the Victory red card by dumping the 5-3-2 thing for a 4-3-3 that allowed an extra man up front against the team with ten-men.

It’s a brave decision. It’s also a super-attacking decision so if you moaned about the defensive mindset in the last two away games then you’re not allowed to moan about this one. It ruined a funky intellectual experiment about how that formation would cope with a home game where it’s not so cool to sit back without the ball all game but oh well. Nah, the real head-scratcher was that despite both Dylan Fox and Dan Mullen starting this one (Scott Galloway dropped to the bench after a run of solid but unspectacular games – would guess that Kalezic wants more on attack from his right wing back), it was Marco Rossi that was replaced barely twenty minutes into the game. Not injured, purely tactical. Somebody had to suffer that ignominy… but your stylish import centre-back? Really?

Marco Rossi has somehow gotten caught up in the speculation with the Nix’s transfer dealings. Three players are supposedly going to leave this month, Rossi was a name that’s been mentioned amongst the guesses. The answers are obvious, it’s the three guys that’ve been dropped completely from the travelling squads to Central Coast and Melbourne City: Ali Abbas, Ryan Lowry and Hamish Watson.

One was on a one-year injury replacement deal and you can probably guess would’ve been on the Rado Vidosic side of things, hence he’s gone. Then there are the two young guys who were each given contract extensions in the offseason before Kalezic had arrived… despite the Nix saying they’d hold off on squad stuff until they had a manager ready. Lowry’s was a triggered extension, Watson’s might have been but that hasn’t been confirmed. But what did Lowry do last season? Started seven games as a backup ooption – who the hell decided that’d be the threshold for two more years?

Guts to Watto though. He’s a fun player to watch and this just wasn’t the right place for him to play regularly and thrive. Would love to see him get a few months in the Kiwi Premmy before looking overseas but we’ll see how that goes.

Rossi though. The only reason Rossi should be rumoured out is if he wants it. He very well might, but performance-wise he’s been all class in 90% of the games he’s played. He’s better than Andy Durante at this stage. That he was the one replaced so early… dunno what that’s supposed to mean. It’s a confusing one. As is the idea that Nathan Burns was sitting on the bench in the first place if he was good for 70 minutes here (and he was good, very good).

Then the other sub was taking off Mike McGlinchey at half-time to bring on Matija Ljujic for his debut. Wee Mac hasn’t been at his best for two seasons now but he’s an experienced midfielder. Matt Ridenton had made a lot of mistakes in that first half. McGlinchey was far from flawless either but once again it was a senior player that made way. Kalezic’s faith in Ridenton has been pleasing to see, he’s a dude that always deserved more chances than he was given under previous managements, and for the most part he’s been very solid. He works hard, wins back the ball, keeps it moving in possession… lots of good midfield stuff. But then he gets in the final third and his finishing and decision making let him down. At least he’s being given the chance to play and learn though. He was much better in the second half.

Ljujic looked keen. Showed glimpses of the player we thought we were getting, an incisive and creative midfielder with a good left foot. Not hugely involved as the Nix played a lot through Nathan Burns but enough to be encouraged. And Burns was brilliant. Some sloppy stuff initially, probably trying a bit too hard, but once he settled he was all over the place and wreaking havoc. Set up both goals, the legend. He had such a fine season last time he was there (after a slow start, to be fair) that his return has been almost overhyped (in as much as anything about the Nix gets any hype). This, though… this was very impressive.

Plus critics of the 5-3-2 will be pleased to know that Kalu, Krishna and Burns can’t all start together in that formation. Hence the 4-3-3 is likely to be what we return to, given that Burns and Krishna were really good playing wide outside Kaludjerovic against MVC. At a guess, you can figure those three will start the same against WSW on Saturday night, with Ljujic in for Wee Mac and… probably Rossi at CB with Dura but that last one’s a tricky situation.

All goods, the Nix finally won. And even though it looks like nobody on that team can be trusted in a one-on-one with the keeper – the finishing on this team… damn, bro – hopefully a little confidence from a hard-fought win solves some of that.

A win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win.

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