Wolves v Spirit

Round 20 report by Chris Dunkerley
Wollongong Wolves v Northern Spirit

Despite matching the Wolves for 30 minutes Spirit conceded 2 quick goals to give the Wollongong side renewed confidence which took them on to score two more in quick succession in the second half. Despite Spirit grabbing one back the Wolves deserved their win, and put paid to Spirit's top 6 chances.

Spirit and a small band of fans travelled down the fog bound F6 with their third debutante in two games, young third string goalkeeper Stuart Page replacing the legendary and 'ever-present' "Hendo" who is in Mexico trialling in order to get a regular 'pay-packet'. This was indicative of the trials of Spirit at the moment, on-field almost matching those off-field woes. In the side though were the experienced Alex Tobin, Ian Ferguson, and Stewart Petrie, but in the absence of Olyroo striker Dylan Macallister the hot and cold Adam Kwasnik was handed another start.

Wollongong for their part have been slowly climbing the table after a bad start and being undefeated for nine straight games, should have been full of confidence. With goalkeeper Andrew Crews in scintilating form, Nigerian Chimoabi Nwaogazi in goalscoring form, and the calming presence of ex Socceroo Jason van Blerk at the back the Wolves should have had nothing to fear from Spirit.

Spirit attacked from the start, with Stuart Page not getting his first touch until the 5th minute. Stewart Petrie took a free kick in the 6th minute but his curling attempt was too hard and sailed past and over the left upright.

In the 7th minute Jason van Blerk got well up on the left and curled a cross away from the keeper, but Alex Tobin was alert and headed clear before the running Stuart Young could get his head onto it. In the 12th minute Spirit's Matthew Hunter read the flow of play and made a great long run to intercept Young and close down his shot. In the 15th Adam Hughes, pressing forward, hit a strong ground shot from 25m that Page was down well to smothering it in the greasy conditions.

Gradually Northern Spirit with their aggressive play and attacking mood got on top of Wolves but could not break down the defence or get telling crosses in. The reliable Wayne O'Sullivan, starting in his more normal midfield role, was chief culprit with overhit and missdirected crosses. In contrast former Spirit player Shane Lyons got deep into the area and shot at an acute angle on goal - Page again did well to smother.

In was turning into a real 'arm-wrestle' with young Mark Milligan in midfield showing vision above his years and Ian Ferguson probing, but alas for Spirit their work in overcoming the confidence and exhuberance of the Wolves side, was undone in three minutes. In the 35th minute Wolves again exploited the left flank and the ball was whipped in, headed back to a lurking Adam Hughes whose out swinging shot from 25m slammed into the top right of the net.

In the 38th minute there was a hand ball claim for Wolves on Hunter in the area, but no worries because the ball was knocked back in the mixer and a clearance miss-cued and went straight to Young, who slotted it inside the left upright. The confidence of the Wolves was back, and Spirit were forced back to defend. The best chance for Spirit came on the 45th minute mark when Petrie broke through on the left but his shot from an acute angle was wide.

Almost straight from the start Stuart Young had a chance, with the shot from the left rebounding off a prostrate O'Sullivan laying on the ground among a bunch of players in the box. In the 49th minute Wolves had the ball in the net but Nwaogazi was judged by the referee to have been off-side.

Spirit coach Lawrie McKinna had reshuffled the team at the break, to try to overcome the deficit. One change that worked was the replacement of Watts by Jonathon Richter, who bussled down the right in the 50th minute but his shot in the top left corner was tipped over by Crews. They moved back into attack. In the 54th minute Milligan swung a well weighted long ball into the area to a running Adam Kwasnik but his header was wide.

In the 57th minute Young, of whom Wolves coach John Turner said afterwards "I though Stuart Young Young couldn't do a thing right in the first half", beat his marker, and launched a shot but Page got a finger to it, the ball rebounded off the left upright and back into Page's arms as he scrambled over the turf.

In the 64th and 65th minutes the wheels fell off for Spirit. With the Sydney side pressing, a long diagonal ball from van Blerk found Nwaogazi free on the right but facing four Spirit defenders strung out across the park, and as he was closed down by the closest, O'Sullivan, the Spirit player slipped at a crucial point and 'Chima' was able to stride forward and blast the ball into the net past an advancing Page. One minute later it was Young who scored from advantage gained from a defensive error. It appeared that the defence re-shuffle had exposed the pace of Tobin and taken the close marking of Hunter off Young, and Wilkinson off Nwaogazi.

Although Spirit battled hard to get some pride back, Kwasnik even having a half-chance taken easily by Crews one minute later, there was no coming back from the dead. Kwasnik, Petrie, and Milligan all had chances that were rushed as they were harried by the Wolves defence.

McKinna wrought another change in the 80th minute, bringing on Caetano Lima for Kwasnik. The link up with Milligan and Richter sparked some worries in the Wolves back-line as the route to goal changed. Lima backed himself in the 83rd minute from 30m with his carefully directed strike sailing agonisingly just past the left upright.

One minute later Lima held the ball with some skill, drawing defenders, and flicked it through to a running Richter who rounded the keeper and knocked it carefully past two defenders on the line, for a consolation goal.

After the game Wolves coach John Turner said, "I said to the boys at half-time that "we played for ten minutes". "There wasn't much threat from either side but then Adam Hughes scored that goal and it opened up. Then we went on with it in the second half" .... "Adam Hughes goal was a cracker of a goal, and that set the platform".

McKinna was pretty honest about the game, stating that "The first 30 mins I thought was quite even but then we had that mad few minutes, the Wolves were running off the ball, they had that spark, buzzing around." "Then the second half they got that third goal!!!" He said he had to make changes at half-time being two down, and thought Richter may have had more legs than Watts to cover van Blerk. He said that with the trip to Perth next they would just keep playing for pride and to see how far up the table they could get, and you never know what may happen to those above them.

The best for Wollongong were Adam Hughes, Jason van Blerk, Jacob Timpano, Danial Cummins, and Nahuel Arrarte. For Spirit Mark Milligan, Matt Hunter, Ian Ferguson, Stuart Page and substitute Jonathon Richter contributed well. In fact McKinna made a point of saying he didn't think Page was at fault for any of the goals.

Wollongong now back up for the second game against the Football Kingz in 10 days, but at home on Monday evening at 6:30pm. Spirit travel west to Perth and a date with destiny on Wednesday 21st in a Round 18 catch-up fixture, while the off-field mysteries continue.