Canberra City was left licking its wounds after its opening match in the Philips Soccer League of Australia at Manuka on Saturday after being outplayed by a better West Adelaide-Hellas side and having two players sent off in the second half.City went down 1-3 and had Ivan Gruicic sent off by referee Dennis McDermott, who was jeered from the pitch at the end of the match by disappointed fans.In a stormy second half City also had Oscar Langone and Nic Boskov booked and the visitors had Graham Honeyman and Gordon McCulloch booked.City played for the final 15 minutes with only 9 men but the dismissals had no bearing on the score.Gruicic and John Stoddart, the former sent off for alleged foul and abusive language and the latter for reported serious foul play will automatically miss next Sundayĺ─˘s match against Brisbane Lions and, depending on the refereeĺ─˘s report, may face longer suspension.
It was a disappointing performance by City, watched by a crowd of about 1,700.City manager and coach Johnny Warren, who gambled on playing another youngster in the side, Stephen Hogg, said after the game the team had taken a long time to settle down, but the youngsters had done a good enough job . Like the rest of the defence, Hogg and young Danny Moulis were often very stretched but they generally played with credit.Warren indicated he would not be making any complaints about the standard of the refereeing.I understand that Canberra City went to considerable lengths to try to ensure that Cityĺ─˘s home games were run by referees from interstate, the thinking being that City should be free of any suggestion of ĺ─˙home-townĺ─¨ decisions. It would be a rare match analyst who accused Mr McDermott of that on Saturday.Despite the clubĺ─˘s offer to pay the costs of bringing Sydney referees to Canberra, the suggestion was rejected by the National League manager, John Frank.West Adelaide-Hellas, in short, were dominating at the back, especially in the air, very strong and purposeful in the middle and had forwards with enough mobility on the ground and in the air to slice through the City rearguard almost at will. Hellas could easily have scored six goals.
The visitors started the match with their blonde-haired international, John Kosmina, playing down the right. It was his fourth match in six days, including two internationals against New Zealand.With Mike Black, Oscar Langone and Tony Henderson, failing to establish any midfield authority, Hellas took the initiative right from the start and went ahead after seven minutes with a goal that was a masterpiece of simplicity and must have had Johnny Warren mumbling oaths.Ian McGregor back-headed a throw-in into the penalty area and Kosmina, meeting the ball on the volley, rapped it past Ron Tilsed from eight metres.It took City 15 minutes to mount a threatening attack, Henderson playing a superbly weighted long ball to Ivan Gruicic but then Nik Boskov had to clear off the line and the dangerous Graham Honeyman had a free header which he put over the bar from six metres.Danny Moulis was prominent down the right flank with two overlapping runs but Hellas almost went further ahead through a header from Gordon McCulloch which the diving Tilsed just managed to keep out.The pattern which was to last for the remainder of the game had now been established. City, stretched at the back, never got hold of the middle, leaving the forwards starved of any decent service. I felt a bit sorry for Brian and John Stoddart who, whenever they did get possession, were generally surrounded by a sea of blue and white.
Ivan Gruicic brought some hope for the local fans just before halftime with a blistering drive over the bar.The second half began encouragingly for Canberra, Kenni Kawaleva, who had replaced Black (Gruicic falling back into the middle) having a shot blocked by the Hellasĺ─˘ goalkeeper Martyn Crook. But then disaster struck with Hellas scoring twice in four minutes.David Jones, who had kept a vice-like grip on Brian Stoddart, popped up in the penalty area in the 49th minute to bicycle-kick a shrewd header from captain David Pillans into the net.City was trying to recover its composure four minutes later when Tony Henderson was dispossessed in the middle leaving Neil McGaghey with a clear run to the City goal. He posted the ball past Tilsed and just inside the far post.It was from this point on that needle began to creep into the match with referee McDermott waving yellow and red cards at regular intervals.For the first time in the match, Canberra began to look threatening. Henderson twice met Gruicic crosses crosses with his head and, once, hit the underside of the crossbar.
There was a loud cheer from the local support after 76 minutes after a goal from Ivan Gruicic which, in terms of skill, was the best of the match. The player ran 20 metres, measuring a high ball from Henderson to meet it on the volley with his right boot and curl the ball over Crook and into the net.The one remaining bright moment for City was the header from Kawaleva onto the underside of the bar after a fine centre from Moulis. Hellas were later heard to say the ball had crossed the line. But a final score of 3-2 would have been a bit complimentary.