The Wellington Phoenix came into Melbourne searching for their first win of the season, but fell victim to an overly aggressive Melbourne City side, as well as a contentious VAR call – the latter which all but destroying the team’s chances of a comeback.
In front of a boisterous AAMI Stadium crowd, the visiting Phoenix team took to the field with an exciting new line-up; a surprise start for star striker Gary Hooper, along with hometown hero Reno Piscopo, whose extended family was in attendance to watch the 21-year-old midfielder in action.
The match started with a strong defensive tone for both teams, highlighted by an intercepted pass by Ulises Davila, solid defending by Louis Fenton and lots of physicality evident by Melbourne City.
Although the home side controlled the possession in the first 10 minutes, the first real excitement came nine minutes in thanks to a Davila-Hooper combo; the former dribbling past a couple of defenders before playing a lovely through ball in behind for Hooper – who got on the end of it until a deflection takes it away from him.
Soon after, Melbourne City rattled off a series of shots at goal which they couldn’t convert; the first saved by Stefan Marinovic, the second sailing over the bar and a third again swept up into the arms of the Phoenix goalkeeper.
Wellington had another chance at the 18 minute mark after a promising run from Piscopo following an interception; the eventual cross came to David Ball who headed it to Hooper inside the box, but the striker couldn’t get his shot away despite some fancy footwork.
Piscopo looked to be the target of several of the Melbourne City players throughout the match, to the point where after repeated fouls against the midfielder, the referee spoke with the home captain. In response, the Phoenix kept composed against the overly physical play of their opponents.
Then, a reason to celebrate for the Phoenix at the 24 minute mark - Hooper, making his starting debut for the Phoenix, scored a fantastic header off of a setup by Ball to register his first goal in the Hyundai A-League. Phoenix up 1-0.
The scrappy play continued by Melbourne City, as they conceded seven fouls in the first thirty minutes of the match (versus Wellington’s two). A yellow card was awarded to Melbourne City’s Najjar, the first of four yellow cards against the team on the night.
A minute later and Melbourne equalised, thanks to a header by Connor Metcalfe - his first Hyundai A-League goal. Four minutes later and Melbourne City took the lead through a rocket of an effort by Scott Galloway, which cannoned into the net over the outstretched hand of Stefan Marinovic – putting the home side up 2-1.
Ball had two chances to retaliate; first an attempt under heavy pressure that went wide and hit the side netting, and then a setup from Ball to Hooper, whose attempt was saved by Melbourne goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis. Sandwiched between this is yet another yellow card for Melbourne as one of their players again takes out Piscopo - one of ten fouls they conceded in the half.
The Phoenix headed into half-time down 2-1; still very much in the game, but conscious of Melbourne City’s dominant possession in the Phoenix half and their swarming defence.
Two changes highlight the start of the second half for Wellington, with Jaushua Sotirio in for Hooper and Callum McCowatt replacing Piscopo. The sides are evenly matched for the first ten minutes, with an attempt on goal blocked by Phoenix’s captain Steven Taylor – using his head – and then several attempts on goal by Phoenix’s Walter Scott and Ball both caught by Bouzanis; a third by Ball is disrupted under defensive pressure.
Then, at the 62 minute mark a penalty was called against Phoenix’s Louis Fenton as a pass hit his chest, with the referee ruling that it also hit Fenton’s hand. A subsequent VAR check upheld the dubious decision – despite the replay clearly showing the ball hitting Fenton’s chest - allowing a penalty kick which was converted by Scott Galloway to put the home side up 3-1.
The Wellington side was in obvious disbelief over the fumbled ruling, which is sure to go down as one of the most contentious calls in the Hyundai A-League season so far.
Following this, Melbourne had more opportunities at goal but strong defence by Wellington held them off. This was highlighted in the 77th minute by Marinovic, who made a superb save of a free kick by substitute Adrian Luna.
The next ten minutes featured back and forth attacking from both teams, with Wellington starting to get more possession in the Melbourne half and the home side not content to sit on their lead. Two incredible saves by Marinovic prevented Melbourne from scoring again, while also extending the goalkeeper’s lead of most saved shots in the Hyundai A-League this season.
Phoenix fans had reason to celebrate in extra time, thanks to a goal by 18-year old Ben Waine from inside the box – his first Hyundai A-League goal and providing a silver lining to Wellington’s 3-2 loss at full-time. Waine’s solid contribution to the final score also now casts even more scrutiny on the incredulous VAR decision – which, if it had been overturned, could easily have resulted in a 2-2 draw.
As always, the Wellington Phoenix can take some positives out of this match, from the solid defensive play of their captain Taylor, the early excitement of Gary Hooper on goal and the strong attacking efforts of youngsters Callum McCowatt and Ben Waine in the limited action.
The Phoenix return to AAMI Stadium next Sunday 10th November, this time to take on Melbourne Victory.
Wellington Phoenix Starting XI
1. Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 3. Luke DEVERE, 5. Matti STEINMANN, 7. Reno Piscopo, 9. David BALL, 10. Ulises DAVILA, 14. Alex RUFER, 16. Louis FENTON, 23, Walter SCOTT, 27. Steven TAYLOR (c), 88. Gary HOOPER
Melbourne City FC Starting XI
2. Scott GALLOWAY, 3. Scott JAMIESON (c), 6. Joshua BRILLANTE, 7. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 11. Craig NOONE, 17. Denis GENREAU, 19. Lachlan WALES, 22. Curtis WOOD, 23. Dean BOUZANIS (gk), 30. Moudi NAJJAR, 34. Connor METCALFE
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
46’ ON 21. Callum MCCOWATT OFF 7. Reno PISCOPO
46’ ON 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO OFF 88. Gary HOOPER
68’ ON 31. Ben WAINE OFF 14. Alex RUFER
Melbourne City FC Substitutions
54’ ON 29. Adrian LUNA OFF 30. Moudi NAJJAR
68’ ON 21. Ramy NAJJARINE OFF 11. Craig NOONE
78’ ON 6. Stefan COLAKOVSKI OFF 13. Connor METCALFE
24’ 88. Gary HOOPER (Welington Phoenix)
31’ 19. Connor METCALFE (Melbourne City FC)
34’ 2. Scott GALLOWAY (Melbourne City FC)
63’ 11. Craig NOONE (Melbourne City FC)
90+3’ 31. Ben Waine (Wellington Phoenix)
Next Match Details
Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park, Melbourne; Sunday 10th November 2019, 6pm NZT