The Wellington Phoenix have fallen to the Perth Glory Jets 4-2 at HBF Park, despite a stirring comeback in the second half on the back of some Gary Hooper heroics – only to have their efforts hamstrung by a highly questionable referee decision which forced the visitors down to 10 men.
Both teams were missing key players from their line-up, with Matti Steinmann a late scratch due to illness and Perth missing both their Captain Diego Castro and Chris Ikonamidis due to injury. Meanwhile Wellington welcomed back Reno Piscopo from his month-long duty with the Australian Under-23 team and Alex Rufer, who returned to the starting XI after coming back from injury.
The two sides started off the match cautiously, content to feel each other out but with Phoenix controlling possession in the first 10 minutes.
Perth’s first attempt at goal was easily saved by Phoenix goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, and Joel Chianese’s follow-up attempt was blocked by the stifling Phoenix defence.
After Piscopo’s first attempt at goal went wide of the net, another attempt by Chianese was batted away by Marinovic, and Perth couldn’t make anything out of a pair of corner kicks; Luke DeVere working hard on defence to deny any opportunities.
Phoenix were given a pair of dubious yellow cards to Devlin and Sotirio in close succession – two of Wellington’s six yellows overall on the night. Despite this they pressed the attack, with a brilliant run by Liberato Cacace at 32 minutes, showcasing his footwork to set up Ulises Davila for an attempt which landed in the Perth Goalkeeper Liam Reddy’s hands.
A few minutes later David Ball caught a solid cross just outside the box and attempted a header that went wide of the goal. His follow-up attempt - off a great pass from Piscopo that just sailed wide of the goalpost – would be Phoenix’s most promising goal attempt of the half.
Perth would be the first to get on the scoreboard, thanks to a Tomislav Mrcela header at 43 minutes over an outstretched Marinovic. Two minutes later, Perth struck again - with Nicholas D’Agostino hammering home a goal to put Glory up 2-0 entering the break.
The first half highlighted some promising play from Piscopo and Cacace. Although down 0-2, the Phoenix would know they had some good chances on goal that they were unlucky not to convert.
The second half opened with another attempt by D’Agostino that was emphatically shut down by Taylor. But D’Agostino would have another chance shortly after, ramming home a header to put Perth up 3-0 at 55 minutes – giving him the first brace of his Hyundai A-League career.
Desperate to get on the scoreboard, the Phoenix bought in Hooper off the bench to introduce some extra firepower into the match. And Hooper would make the most of his chances, heading home a goal from just outside the 6-yard box off of a slick cross from Tim Payne – putting the score at 3-1 to Perth.
A second yellow card for Payne – on a trivial foul following an accidental clip on D’Agostino – saw the Phoenix stunningly reduced to 10 men in a highly questionable refereeing decision. Phoenix fans will rightly be frustrated by the inconsistency of the calls made on the night, with much harsher fouls – particularly one on Devlin in the first half – not being carded.
Despite the handicap, Phoenix continued to attack – showing great heart from a team that has been unbeaten in ten of its last eleven matches. A free kick by Piscopo saw the Phoenix with another chance to close the gap, but his excellent attempt was palmed away by Reddy.
Then Hooper struck again at 76 minutes, this time finishing neatly on the turn inside the box, giving him his first brace of the season – and giving Phoenix hope as they closed the gap 3-2. A few minutes later Hooper almost had himself a hat trick, attempting to reach a cross from Piscopo inside the box but it was caught by Reddy.
But Perth would pull ahead again on the back of a Fornaroli goal at the 90 minute mark, cutting between two phoenix defenders to slot home a goal – his 10th of the season.
The final score saw Perth Glory win the Distance Derby 4-2, in an entertaining second half that saw the Phoenix fighting hard and showing great character despite the unfortunate result.
The loss sees Wellington drop from fourth to fifth place on the ladder, while Perth stays pat in third. The Phoenix will look to regroup for the next match, versus Melbourne City at Eden Park – a venue in which they remain undefeated – and will welcome Steinmann back into their line-up, but in turn will miss Payne due to his impending suspension.
Wellington Phoenix Starting XI
1.Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 3.Luke DEVERE, 6.Tim PAYNE, 7.Reno PISCOPO, 8.Cameron DEVLIN, 9.David BALL, 10.Ulises DAVILA,11.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 13.Liberato CACACE, 14.Alex RUFER, 27.Steven TAYLOR (c)
Perth Glory Starting XI
2.Alex GRANT, 4.Gregory WUTHRICH, 5.Ivan FRANJIC, 7.Joel CHIANESE, 9.Bruno FORNAROLI, 12.Kim SOO-BEOM, 16.Tomislav MRCELA, 18.Nicholas D’AGOSTINO, 20.Jake BRIMMER, 33.Liam REDDY (gk), 88.Neil KILKENNY
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
55’ ON 88.Gary HOOPER OFF 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO
73’ ON 4.Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI OFF 14.Alex RUFER
82’ ON 21.Callum MCCOWATT OFF 7.Reno PISCOPO
Perth Glory Substitutions
68’ ON 8.James MEREDITH OFF 12.Soobeom KIM
73’ ON 29.Kristian POPOVIC OFF 20.Jake BRIMMER
77’ ON 21.Tarek ELRICH OFF 5.Ivan FRANJIC
43’ Tomislav MRCELA (Perth Glory)
45’ Nicholas D’AGOSTINO (Perth Glory)
55’ Nicholas D’AGOSTINO (Perth Glory)
69’ Gary HOOPER (Wellington Phoenix)
76’ Gary HOOPER (Wellington Phoenix)
90’ Bruno FORNAROLI (Perth Glory)
Next Match details
Round 19 – Wellington Phoenix versus Melbourne City at Eden Park, Auckland; Saturday 15th Feb 2020, 7pm NZT