These are busy times for the Welly Nix and it hasn’t all been great, as you well know. A couple defeats at the exact wrong time have probably blown their chances at a home semi-final, while the gaffer’s decided he’s gotta go and we’ve still only got six players contracted for next season. Not all as chaotic as it seems, to be fair, but with it all colliding at once you’re forgiven for feeling a bit overwhelmed. Check out last week’s offerings for more on all that.
Something dumb happened on Saturday night. Dumber than the usual weekend happenings… Adelaide beat Melbourne Victory 1-0 thanks to a George Blackwood goal with ten minutes left in the game. It means that the Vix are locked into third place, unable to keep pace with Sydney FC after the sky blues topped minor premiers Perth Glory the night before, but more pertinently it put Adelaide four points clear of the Phoenix and Melbourne City as the two scrapped it out at Westpac Stadium on Sunday night.
Four points meant Adelaide only need to beat a Brisbane team that just lost 6-1 to the Newcastle Jets to secure fourth, regardless of any other results. The Phoenix lost to the Roar. It’s their own fault. But that result the other night, Adelaide beating Melbourne Victory, meant that the Phoenix were basically guaranteed to be playing either Adelaide or Melbourne Victory in the playoffs. Combined results this season against those two: 0 wins, 4 draws, 2 defeats.
Now, draws ain’t the worst once you hit up the knockouts. Draws take you to extra time and penalties. The Nix have a very good keeper (not convinced about the penalty takers though). They’re a tough team to beat at their best, a team with high fitness and workrate and they don’t mind leaving a boot in either. Plus they’ve scored more than a couple cheeky late goals along the way (foreshadowing alert). Three draws against the Melbourne Victory is reason to think they can top them in the semis if everything clicks at the right time. But more likely they play Adelaide who have beaten them twice and made the Nix look bang average last time they clashed. Only a red card kept them in the match. Point being that if they’re gonna have to play away then away to the Victory might be the preference… which means slipping to sixth.
But that wasn’t gonna happen. First off there’s the chance of getting that home semi still, so they had to go for it. And second of all, with a couple defeats on the trot and Perth away next up, the Nix needed to win this game so bad if they were gonna have any sort of momentum going into that playoff, whoever and wherever they play. The risk is high. Adelaide have been a bogey team this season, their style of play crunches the Nix into dust. But the Nix blew it themselves by losing in Brisbane so just gotta take whatever comes along and give it full hundies. The Nix have been a confidence team this season with their fate constantly swinging with the hype of their results. That hype’s on the downswing at the moment. They needed one more of those ahead of that playoff game to get the buzz going again and they needed it desperately.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Roy Krishna scored once then twice then three times to get it done right at the end. The first was a lovely bit of cleverness from Max Burgess to slip the ball on the other side of the defender, trusting Roy’s speed off the mark to be the difference and with Eugene Galekovic just a tad too slow to react, it was. Deceptively useful finish too. The second was a bit of the old boom bop bam as he thumped one in on the left from outside the box.
But both of those goals were answered by Melly City’s Riley McGree, both in pretty disappointing defensive efforts, so Roy figured the trick was to wait until there’s no time left to respond and in the fourth minute of injury time at the end of the game, he got in the way of a Cillian Sheridan header from a Callan Elliot corner (chipped softly to the far post in a pleasant example of ‘just get it into the mixer’) and flicked it with the outside of his boot for the winner. And for his first ever A-League hat-trick. And for top spot on the golden boot standings. And he’s broken the Phoenix record for goals in a season. What an absolute hero.
What more can you ask for than your best player to be the difference in a game you really need to win? That’s the only way the Nix are winning a playoff game, they won’t scrape through without strong games from their best players: Krishna, Kurto, Taylor especially.
Nothing much to say on this matter. Roy Krishna is one of the best players in the A-League at this point and he deserves all the money he gets when he signs that next contract, just gotta keep those fingers crossed that the Phoenix are the ones who offers it to him. Make him a marquee player or whatever. Mark Rudan called him the King of Wellington. This was a timely reminder that we cannot afford to let him go. He’s the most important player in this squad and it would be criminal negligence to let him sign with another club at this point – whatever anyone else offers, match it with a bonus ten percent. The Bunnings Principle.
As to the wider performance levels, it was nothing special. The Nix started brilliantly with all of the energy and enthusiasm that they were missing last week but they also had extended spells of this game where they couldn’t even get the ball off their opponents and there were plenty of leaky moments at the back. Andy Durante has had a fantastic bounce-back season but he’s starting to show the fatigue of nearly 2200 minutes in his legs this season. Dude’s making some weird mistakes lately, simple things like not cutting out a cross that’s there to put a boot on. Timely reminder that the Nix have only kept four clean sheets this season, two of those were uneventful 0-0 draws, and they’ve conceded in ten consecutive games now. This is not a team that shuts the gate on you.
Oh yeah and speaking of defence, did anyone seriously believe they were gonna play a back four? My guess was that Max Burgess would play left-back with Cacace on the right after seeing the starting XI but then that little scoop that David Williams was there in warm-ups and how about it? Definitely one from outside the realms of expectation.
Willo did some cool things there, he’s a player who’ll do a job for his team and he’s got a bit of speed which helps. The crossing was okay. Bit harsh on Justin Gulley though, who had a mixed bag last week. I wonder if we’re looking at a matchup thing where Willo starts in a game like this to get all the attackers out there and not have to sacrifice Sarpreet Singh or Max Burgess but against a team with more pressure down the wings, like Adelaide or Melly Vix, then Gulley offers more solidity. I mean, Willo had a few very obvious moments of being an attacker playing out of position. The defence wasn’t great in this game, as already alluded to. Not terrible but yeah, not great.
There was also the funky situation with Mandi dragging his heels on the way off the pitch after being subbed off ten mins into the second half. There was nothing overtly dramatic there. He shook the gaffer’s hand and all that. He’s allowed to be pissed off at being subbed so early, especially because he was subbed off at half-time last game too. Before that he hadn’t played less than 68 mins in a game and even that one was only coz he got sent off. Doubt there’s any kind of rift there. Just a professional not happy with being replaced unexpectedly… I mean, at least the Brisbane game was an obvious shocker. Someone had to go. But here they were 2-1 up when he was subbed. At least Cillian Sheridan finally got some extended minutes, he looks like he needs them at the moment. Lacking in a bit of that indomitable spirit he had in his first couple games.
Otherwise it was all pretty sweet. Got solid showings from the usual crew of late, Burgess and Singh are still locked in the arm-wrestle in case one of them has to drop out (still leaning on Burgie there, tbh). Stevie T has made a noticeable difference to the defence since he returned, steadying the ship so to speak. Also Ben Waine came on in stoppage time and there was one moment when he ran like fifty metres tracking a guy to make a tackle and when you’ve got that sorta hunger coming on off the bench then things can’t be too bad. Ben Waine also deserves huge credit for being the first fella to get to Roy after the winner, chucking in a big old bear hug which meant that Krishna wasn’t able to get his shirt off far enough to be booked. That’s an impact sub right there, folks. Callan Elliot finished the game at right back as well. His third appearance. Starting to see the rewards for that top notch attitude going all the way back to when he was a trialist in preseason and never dropping off since.
Oh and tell you what else… nobody was booked for the Phoenix. Just the second time this season that’s happened. Keeps Andy Durante and Alex Rufer on tip-toes ahead of the Perth game though with each one yellow away from a suspension. Adelaide plays Brisbane on Anzac Day, Thursday night, so the Nix will know before they play Perth whether fourth place is still a possibility. If it is then full steam ahead, all hands on deck, because a home game significantly increases the possibility of a second playoff game. If not… well, is there honestly any point in playing Dura and Roof then? Not really.
This was a bit of an odd one because the nature of the win is massive for the club at this stage of the season, getting the train back on the tracks when it mattered and reviving that confidence ahead of the semis. But all the same that late winner might not make much difference to where they finish on the table. It’s a crucial win which doesn’t really matter. Figure that one out. But after the events of the last couple weeks, they needed this. We needed this. So cheers for that one, Roy.
Support The Niche Cache on Patreon if you reckon our yarns are worth us getting paid for, indie battlers on the kiwi online sports media scene and all that
Also, whack an ad to say cheers and tell a mate about TNC too, should you be so inclined
Keep cool but care