It was always going to be a funky old matchup when the Perth Glory came to town to play the Wellington Phoenix. The only two teams in the A-League who don’t really care about engaging in the possession battle. What happens when an immovable object meets another immovable object? They start moving, apparently.
For 55 minutes this was the best the Welly Nix have played all season. Sarpreet Singh and Libby Cacace were recalled to the starting team in place of David Williams and Tom Doyle, neither of whom played at all with Williams an unused sub and Doyle not even in the match squad. Kinda hard to know what’s up with Mark Rudan’s team announcements, he’s definitely going hard on the accountability thing with tinkerings every time they lose – Doyle being out of the team after making a couple errors last game doesn’t feel like a coincidence – but the more tinkerings you make the more that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with players unable to perform under constant change.
In that mind, it makes sense that Nathan Burns and Roy Krishna, a couple fellas who’ve played a fair bit together for this club before, were as effective a combo as they were. Bringing the best out of each other. David Williams hasn’t been bad in any of his games. He also hasn’t been especially great in any of them. He works hard and does his job but he hasn’t struck up any kind of link with Krishna yet, that’s for sure. Also familiar with those two and with a point to prove after being dropped last week was Sarpreet Singh. Look, the Nix have done plenty of useful things in defence this season, bad as the last couple games have been that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress. But we hadn’t seen much attacking flair yet, as evidenced by the cheeky one goal scored across the past four games.
And yet those first 55 minutes they looked bloody useful all of a sudden. Nathan Burns shoulda given the Nix the lead about ten minutes in when he slipped through but he shanked his shot off his left peg. At that point it felt crucial, like that was the chance that could’ve turned everything around and he’d blown it. More of the same Nathan Burns struggling for any semblance of form. Another long day at the office trying to watch them lose 3-0 after wasting that opportunity. But strangely… that didn’t happen. They kept on putting pressure on the Perth midfield and winning the ball in dangerous areas, giving their strikers space to run into. Sarpreet Singh was bloody excellent. Far and away his best performance in ages and in that light you’ve gotta admit that dropping him last week might’ve been a masterstroke to keep him on his toes. Even his free kicks and corners were sizzling.
As for Burns and Krishna, let’s just say it makes a huge difference when the strikers are able to link up and play together. Fittingly when the goal finally arrived late on in the first half it featured all three of those dudes very prominently. Watch it back here…
Okay, now watch it again. Nathan Burns goes for the quick trigger pass like Mark Rudan’s team has been keen on all season. Roy Krishna is dropping off for an option while Sarpreet Singh runs in behind. Mixed and decisive movements, good start.
The pass is unlikely to do much unless it’s perfectly on target but Singh’s run does distract Shane Lowry. Therefore as Tomislav Mrcela slides over to block the pass, it falls to Roy Krishna on the edge of the penalty area with Lowry a clear metre or so away from him instead of right up in his face. That’s the difference between a clean shot at goal and a blocked attempt. It’s the difference between goal and no goal.
Krishna being Krishna, the finish was perfect. He’s now the all-time leading scorer for the Wellington Phoenix with 34 strikes, surpassing Saint Paul Ifill, and let’s pray there’s plenty more to come.
There was a scary moment in the first half where Filip Kurto came rushing out to the ball against Andy Keogh and his head collided heavily with Keogh’s leg. Horrible contact and blatant concussion symptoms. Don’t wanna be reckless and diagnose him from afar but the Nix had no chance of keeping him out there. Ollie Sail was immediately up and talking to his goalie coach as the stretcher came out. Kurto looked much better in the changing room, alert and chirpy enough, but that could easily be a couple weeks on the sideline for the Phoenix’s best player so far. Sail’s alright as a backup but that would be a difficult task for him… wonder if Stefan Marinovic would be keen on a short term contract? Ah, look what I’ve done. I’ve done that thing that all the other journos do and reflexively suggested that any old All White who moves club should go to the Phoenix. I’m truly sorry for engaging in such silliness. Please accept my humble apologies.
Anyway, the reason I left it at 55 minutes is that the game changed after that. In fact it changed quite drastically every ten minutes after that. And I don’t use the word drastically lightly, this sucker had some drama, buddy. You know, you probably watched it. If you didn’t then you saved having to deal with that horrible process of thought when you instinctively consider throwing a heavy object at your television/computer screen (or hurling your phone across the room), only to consider the eventual damage in a rapid internal cost/benefit analysis and then tamely but with all your pent up anger still simmering just place said heavy object (usually the remote/mouse/phone/coffee mug) back where you found it.
DRASTIC CHANGE #1 (55 mins):
Following a couple early excursions into the Perth Glory half early on in the second stanza, Tony Popovic’s team began to take control. It wasn’t a thing that happened all at once in a dramatic moment but it was roughly around this time that the momentum swung. The Glory got smarter in possession and moved the ball around. They forced Louis Fenton and Libby Cacace, each who’d had superb first halves, to stay deeper while cutting the supply lines to Krishna and Burns by not giving the ball away softly. They began entrenching themselves on attack, pushing the Nix defence deeper and isolating those two strikers even more. The tide was definitely turning and it took a spell to adjust to that.
DRASTIC CHANGE #2 (65 mins):
Then on came Diego Castro and he made an immediate impact. Having a guy with that level of class and vision, some of the passes that he was not only able to see but also to execute were incredible. It’s not often that you see a substitute make such a difference in a game. For the first time in the game the Perth Glory weren’t throwing down the odd threat to score but keeping up a sustained and frightening assault.
So Mark Rudan responded by going to the bench himself. Off came Alex Rufer and on went Ryan Lowry. Slightly weird, since we’ve already got Michal Kopczynski playing as a centre back (and in a game where he got more time on the ball and less misjudging crosses he was a lot better – a pass accuracy of 90.5% ain’t no joke) and here was Ryan Lowry coming on in midfield. At first I’d assumed Kopa would step up. Nope. The plan instead was for Lowry to go on a straight-up man-marking mission against Castro, shadowing him across the field. It meant sacrificing a midfielder… but at this point the 1-0 lead was the most important thing.
DRASTIC CHANGE #3 (75 mins):
There was an incident in the first half when Louis Fenton was dragged back by his arm in the penalty area and the VAR took a peek at it and decided to let things carry on. It felt like the exact depiction of a soft no-call that the VAR would overthink on and then overturn but instead they let it slide. Not so much in the 75th minute when a Perth Glory free kick in the middle third of the paddock drew the attention of the video ref and, wait what’s this… is he going to… surely not… not the back pocket… oh jeezus, no!
Ryan Lowry had gone sliding in clumsily for a loose ball and poked it away with his sprigs up. He then followed through slightly to concede a free kick, though nothing deliberate. Nothing dangerous. The studs were up but only because of the awkward way he hit the deck – if he didn’t roll the sprigs up then he’d have snapped his own ankles in half. Absolute joke of a decision, honestly. This won’t divulge into a VAR bashing because it’s not the system that’s the issue, it’s the overuse of it and the weak refereeing to overturn a situational decision upon slow-mo replay which he’d been fine with in real time.
And the worst part? It was Christopher Ikonomidis that he caught, not even Diego Castro. Poor buddy shoulda just stuck to his job and we’d have been sweet.
DRASTIC CHANGE #4 (82 mins):
Rudan responded by subbing off Nathan Burns and putting on Reuben Way for an A-League debut. But Reuben Way… I hope he proves me wrong, however I’ve seen him play a couple times for the ressies and he’s not very good. Just a battler. And his man-marking ordeal had a fatal flaw when he slipped over in the 82nd minute when trying to track Castro and allowed that joker to score the equaliser.
It took some heroic defence just to hold on for the draw after that. Steven Taylor in particular, he did some mad things to preserve the point. And, yeah, I know they should have won. And they can obviously feel hard done by with the way it happened. But a point against a very in form team, a team that came into this game at the top of the table, is a good point. Perth have made a habit of scoring late winners and we shut that down, dude. Did it in a way which should galvanise them into the next few games too, with an attacking selection that actually seemed to work (although it remains to be seen if they can be as useful against teams that play in a different way to the Glory) and with strong performances from those troublesome wingback positions. And for once they faced adversity and didn’t go all soggy bread about it.
Tempering expectations has been a recurring life lesson inflicted by the Welly Nix this season so if there are positives, and this week there actually happen to be a few, then those are what’s best to focus upon. The result wasn’t what it could have been but we needed this performance.
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