The first clue that this game wasn’t gonna be up to much came on Anzac Day when Adelaide won a bit of a thriller 5-3 away to Brisbane Roar. A day later Melbourne City won 5-0 against Central Coast Mariners. What that meant was that the Phoenix could finish fifth with a win, draw, or a one-goal defeat away to Perth, setting up a Sunday clash away to Adelaide in the semis… or they could lose by more than a goal and play on Friday night away to Melbourne Victory.
Without a win against either of those teams in six games this season (four draws and two defeats), it wasn’t a huge deal whichever of them they ended up with… yet those extra couple days to recover for Adelaide compared to the quick turnaround with the Vix sure looked useful. Ah but then we’d have had to get a decent result against Perth Glory and that was always going to be tough. Even with their best possible team out there the Nix would have struggled immensely. As it happens though, they didn’t have their best possible team out there, not even close.
Nope, Mark Rudan wasn’t taking chances. Andy Durante and Alex Rufer were each rested since they were a yellow card away from suspension. Roy Krishna was also given a welcome break having played the most minutes of any Phoenix player this season (although resting him for the last one meant that Libby Cacace has overtaken him… third, fourth, and fifth on that list are Dura, Kurto, and Rufer who played a grant total of zero minutes between them in this game in Perth). Max Burgess was also on the bench, as was Michal Kopczynski.
If you thought that this was Nathan Burns’ big chance to get back into the swing of things just in time for the playoffs then… haha no. But Gianni Stensness and Ben Waine were each given their first starts and with Sarpreet Singh and Libby Cacace also starting that meant four members of the NZ U20 World Cup squad in the side as well as a fifth (Callan Elliot) on the bench. Antony Golec and Ryan Lowry were in there with Steven Taylor. Cillian Sheridan started up top. Bit of a bloody look to it, that’s for sure.
But let’s be honest, if Mark Rudan was prioritising this game in any way then he wouldn’t have made six changes to a winning team. That alone was a dead giveaway for his priorities here. Meanwhile Perth have a bye next week because of being minor prems and all that plus they rested their dudes last week so they didn’t wanna go three weeks without a decent hit out. The Welly Nix had Roy Krishna on the bench. Perth Glory had Diego Castro in the starters. The rest was inevitable.
So bugger the game then. Perth were about three classes too good and this was a goddamn hiding. No other way to put it. Perth had 37 total shots with 17 on target, which are numbers the Nix could only dream of. Seventeen shots on target, I mean… that’s so far through the roof it’s in orbit.
Yet after half-time Mark Rudan walked back out and got intercepted by a telly camera sort of like one of them charity volunteers who corner you at the shops and the only polite thing to do is to engage in a little civil conversation as you figure out a way to weasel out of this situation without being too much of a dick (I prefer to pick my supported charities by moral importance rather than by the randomness of whichever one is hanging out in front of The Warehouse today… support The Niche Cache on Patreon!). In that convo it’s fair to say that Rudes did not sound like he gave a single care in the world about the result. Old mate was extraordinarily flippant. Then in the post-match presser he basically admitted that the only priority was next week’s playoff game as if a 5-0 loss was somehow beneficial to his squad.
Maybe it’s fair enough. Once the Nix had missed out on that home semi it stopped being about this weekend anyway. Rudan rested enough fellas that only three likely starters for next week played ninety here: Taylor, Singh, and Cacace. Taylor has only played three games since coming back from injury. The other two are young fellas. That bonus rest mostly makes up for the quick turnaround on Friday… although let’s not forget how bad they were away to Brisbane on a short week where they’d had to stay in Oz the whole time. Guessing it’ll be a similar arrangement this week.
I’ll preview that game in more detail in a day or two, probably Wednesday, but yeah, there’s plenty of reason to be worried about this. The Nix are without doubt the underdogs even if they’ve drawn three times with the Victory already. To be fair, that underdog tag is Mark Rudan’s preferred setting. Obviously he was happy with the opponent and figured he’d get more benefit from managing the minutes in his squad. The Perth game was a mess, a farce even, and they got what they deserved. But let’s be honest… as much as you wanna kick up a fuss about staying up ‘til 11pm on a Sunday to watch that piece of trash, this game will be completely forgotten within a couple days. Bigger fish to fry.
Like, this isn’t some drastic thudding halt of all momentum. Rudan protected his lads from that by treating it like a training game. Even his subs were kinda weird, bringing on three probable starters presumably to keep them fresh and also because it was getting bloody ugly. But he took off Sheridan, Williams, and Mandi too – two starters and the first man up off the bench for Friday night.
I dunno, I could try make some sense of it but ultimately the manager didn’t care so it simply doesn’t matter. I agree that Melbourne Victory are the better matchup for the Nix and as for the home semi… they’d already botched that one a couple weeks ago. Still feels like that might be a deadly blow to their chances, not playing that game at home like they should have if they’d closed it out properly, but what can you do? Just gotta ride the rollercoaster.
A few things did stand out, however. Ben Waine was involved in most of the best things the Nix did on attack. A young player with some pace and a willingness to attack defenders. He’s only seventeen years old but he was the best player for the reserves last season and this was an opportunity he definitely took to increase his reputation. Whereas Stensness was a little up and down, Waine held his own against a very experienced backline. Lots of potential to work with there if he keeps on developing the way he has these past twelve months.
David Williams is not a right wingback, as we all know, but it looks like he’ll be there against the Victory. Willo did fine there last week in an attacking effort against Melbourne City. But against a team where a whole lot more defending was required he looked like exactly what he is: a centre forward playing in defence. Perth were absolutely dominant down that right side of the Nix’s defence. Chris Ikonomidis had a field day. Not sure if you’ve heard this either but the Victory have some impressive attackers and if Willo’s at RWB then it won’t get easier.
And it ain’t only that, even if he was doing great there then it’d still mean taking one of the two proven goal-scorers in this squad and pushing him away from the penalty area. This team doesn’t have the depth to waste attacking talent like that. Try Burgess there. Try Justin Gulley again if he’s holding up okay injury-wise. Even Callan Elliot, who’ll have similar dramas to Willo as a defender but at least he has an excellent delivery into the box and Willo will still be there up top to cross it to. Like, it’s a risk defensively but it won’t have the flipside of weakening the attack as well.
The golden boot race briefly looked like it might be the biggest collateral damage of Rudan’s tank efforts. Andy Keogh scored a couple in the first half and had at least two great chances to add to that. Bang those two in, and bloody hell the way this game went it wasn’t out of the question, and he’d be one away from catching Roy Krishna with 18 goals. Having Roy sit out and effectively concede any slight chance he still has at the Alex Tobin Medal is fair enough. That should go to the best player on the best team so no dramas. But risking Roy’s golden boot could have been reason to riot if Keogh hadn’t been a little sloppy. He was subbed off with twenty to play and that locked it in for Roy. Breathe out. His boots are golden. Nobody can take it away from him now.
This was a weird game from the beginning. The result could have been a win or a loss or a draw and the outcome wouldn’t have changed for the Nix. Only a multi-goal defeat would cop them… which is obviously what happened but the gaffer tanked it for a better semi matchup. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. The game was a waste. Whether or not that waste was worthwhile, like chucking out that mouldy bread you aren’t gonna eat, we won’t know until the final whistle on Friday night. So don’t freak out about a terrible result. It was terrible by design. It’s all about next week, don’t look back.
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