The Wellington Phoenix have picked up a much-needed point versus Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park tonight, following a strong defensive effort which saw both sides coming away with a 1-1 draw.
Despite missing two key players in Louis Fenton and Gary Hooper - the former suffering a shoulder injury during the last match, and the latter picking up a minor quad strain during training - the Phoenix hung tough to deny Melbourne Victory their first home win of the season.
This was the second time in a week that the Phoenix had played at AAMI Park, and the crowd was equally boisterous – at times even against their own team - as they were for the Melbourne City clash the previous Sunday. Filling in for the two injured players were Jaushua Sotirio and newly-capped All White Tim Payne in his first start of the season, alongside the returning Liberato Cacace who had been suspended the previous two matches.
The game started with a tribute to the Armed Forces as part of the Hyundai A-League’s Remembrance Round, before action kicked off at a rapid-fire pace.
An early corner gave Ulises Davila a chance at goal, but he couldn’t convert from inside the box as the ball caromed off of Ola Toivonen – in what looked to be a hand ball. A subsequent VAR check confirmed the penalty, awarding Davila with a penalty kick – which he prompted converted to put the visitors up 1-0 in the fifth minute. Davila is now 2-0 in penalty kicks this season and has three goals over five games, showing that he’s got the tools to become a star in the Hyundai A-League.
The VAR decision no doubt provided some small measure of consolation for Phoenix fans as well, after being on the wrong end of a controversial VAR call last Sunday against Melbourne City.
After a dominant showing by the Phoenix in the first 8 minutes, the Victory went on a sustained attack with a series on darting runs – bookended by a penalty kick by Toivonen that went high over the goal. A foul by Wellington’s Matti Steinmann two minutes later gave Melbourne Victory a second free kick, which they again couldn’t make anything out of; Wellington displaying some strong defence early on against the Victory pressure.
At 14 minutes, a James Donachie header attempt was caught well by Phoenix goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic. This helped set up another attempt several minutes later by Davila, but a defensive block denied him a second goal. The proceeding minutes saw the ball swinging in both directions, with the Phoenix defending well against Victory’s advances; two highlights included Luke DeVere shutting down Melbourne’s attacking run on the right wing, and Steven Taylor blocking a shot by Migjen Basha from outside the box.
Another brilliant save by Marinovic at 37 minutes and the frustration was beginning to show on the Victory players, as their attacking attempts were constantly thwarted by the Phoenix defence under the expert marshalling of Taylor. The large Melbourne crowd were heard voicing their frustrations at their home side, for the team’s inability to create meaningful chances inside the Phoenix half.
The end of the first half was memorable for a dangerous tackle from Melbourne’s Leigh Broxham – his second of the night – against Davila, which earned him a yellow card. Both teams headed into the tunnels at half time with Wellington up 1-0 against the hosts, after a dominant first half of play.
Several minutes into the second half, and Marinovic made another superb save against Jakob Poulsen. This set up a solid attack at the other end, with Jaushua Sotirio playing David Ball into the area; Ball got his shot away but it was saved by Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas. A subsequent Ball attempt from a corner kick was blocked.
The Victory were awarded a free kick at 53 minutes after a dubious foul by Ball, but again the Phoenix defence was strong as Toivonen’s attempt was met with a Wellington wall of defenders. Toivonen – whose fingerprints had been all over the second half – followed this up with a header attempt that narrowly went wide of the post; he seemed determined to equalise and his efforts were rewarded at 66 minutes as he capitalised on a deflection in the Phoenix box and chipped one in over Marinovic. The score was tied at 1-1.
A substitution saw Ball replaced by 18-year-old Ben Waine, who last week become the youngest Wellington Phoenix player to score a goal. Waine was soon involved in a curious incident where he was through in behind but the referee brought it back for a free kick, instead of giving advantage – drawing the ire of Coach Ufuk Talay.
At 78 minutes, Marinovic made yet another huge save; this time against the pesky Toivonen from inside the box, preventing him from racking up another goal. As the second half began to wind down, we saw the debuts of two Phoenix players, Cameron Devlin and Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi.
Still showing their frustration at the Phoenix defence, Storm Roux proceeded to foul Sotirio twice in the space of two minutes – the second forcing a Wellington free kick deep inside the home half. Midfielder Alex Rufer took the opportunity to put up a strong shot which was palmed away in the top corner of the goal by goalkeeper Thomas.
With four extra minutes added to the clock, the Phoenix defended resolutely to preserve their first draw of the season, putting a well-earned point on the board - and in the process denying Melbourne Victory their first win at home. Coach Talay said that he thinks this match will be a springboard for his team’s chances at moving up the ladder.
''It’s a start for us, I think we’ve been playing good football and not getting the results – we’ll take the point tonight and hope that this will start things off.''
Five Phoenix players – Marinovic, Payne, Rufer, Liberato Cacace and Callum McCowatt - will now head off to Ireland and Lithuania with the All Whites for a pair of friendly matches.
The Wellington Phoenix return home and enjoy a bye round next weekend, giving Fenton and Hooper time to heal before they take on the Brisbane Roar at Westpac Stadium on Saturday 23rd November.
Wellington Phoenix Starting XI
1. Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 3. Luke DEVERE, 5. Matti STEINMANN, 6. Tim Payne, 7. Reno Piscopo, 9. David BALL, 10. Ulises DAVILA, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 14. Alex RUFER, 23. Walter SCOTT, 27. Steven TAYLOR (c)
Melbourne Victory FC Starting XI
2. Storm ROUX, 4. James DONACHIE, 6. Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Kenny ATHIU, 8. Jakob POULSEN, 11. Ola TOIVONEN (c), 14. Thomas DENG, 17. Elvis KAMSOBA, 18. Migjen BASHA, 20. Lawrence THOMAS (gk), 21. Adama TRAORE
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
68’ ON 31. Ben WAINE OFF 9. David BALL
76’ ON 8. Cameron DEVLIN OFF 21. Callum MCCOWATT
78’ ON 4.Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI OFF 10. Ulises DAVILA
Melbourne Victory FC Substitutions
85’ ON 22. Kristijan DOBRAS OFF 7. Kenny ATHIU
90’ ON 24. Anthony LESIOTIS OFF 18. Migjen BASHA
5’ 10. Ulises DAVILA (Wellington Phoenix)
66’ 11. Ola TOIVONEN (Melbourne Victory)
Next Match details
Brisbane Roar at Westpac Stadium, Wellington | Saturday 23rd November 2019, 7pm NZT