Wolves v Strikers

Round 6 report by Stephen Webb
Wollongong City v Brisbane Strikers

Wolves' match day program contained this sorry tale: "In 1998 the Strikers repeated their double feat from the previous season over Wollongong. This was despite a form reversal that saw the Wolves finish inside the top six and Brisbane in the bottom three. Had the six points gone the other way Wollongong would have been crowned minor premiers."

Wolves made a bad start to last season. They have made a worse start to this season. And even though they didn't lose to Brisbane tonight, the Illawarra Mercury's Phil Murphy has reported that they had to win to prevent Nick Theodorakopoulos making "wholesale changes" to their line-up. Wolves had dominated the first half without scoring and sat back after their goal as Brisbane applied the pressure.

Brisbane will be grateful for their point. Wolves fans went home very disenchanted; the fireworks that went off at half time in the daylight and then after the game when most people were on their way back to their cars aptly symbolised the way things aren't coming together for the club in 1998/99. Much of Wolves' first half possession was wasted. Passes were going astray, crosses just lobbed into Bolton's hands, and Masi sprayed a couple of shots wide of the mark before hitting the crossbar with a first-time shot from a Chipperfield cross.

For all of Wolves' possession and use of the park, the first half chances were even. Pogliacomi was under pressure early, down on his knees to make a save in the 8th minute, feeling Harper's presence soon after and then beaten by a clean header (over the bar) by Laybutt from a corner.

Harris didn't seem to be in the game very much, but did have the chance to show off of with a flashy backheel.

Wehrman walked all over Brooks -- figuratively and literally -- in the first half. He and Meredith (despite one atrocious second-half free kick) were Brisbane's stand-out (if not outstanding) players. Meredith was a nuisance in defence and provided some great long balls for Brisbane's forwards. Brooks looked severely disoriented in the first half and only his persistence in the second half (giving away free kicks snapping at Wehrman's heels) kept him on the pitch.

Of the other Wolves players, Chipperfield made some first half sorties toward the Brisbane goal but didn't seem to have the confidence to take defenders on. Surjan in the 22nd minute pulled the best save from Bolton with a drive from well outside the box.

Six minutes later Meredith was deflecting another shot away from his line. Pogliacomi was announced Wolves man of the match, largely due to a couple of spectacular diving saves; but he was still preferring to punch clear rather than catch the ball, often mis-timing his efforts.

Souris was the real defensive hero, frequently taking away Knipe's legs, ball and all. He is probably one of the few Wolves players who doesn't need to worry about his place in the team. Many of the others can count themselves lucky Theodorakopoulos has such little depth to draw upon. They should be spending their time considering their footballing future rather than modelling their bottoms for local newspaper competitions.

Brisbane came into the second half fighting. Wolves regained a little composure but still failed to take their chances (the forlorn Brooks skied a gift after great work by Chipperfield who beat Wehrman to get in his cross). Chay Hews forced a good save from Pogliacomi in the 53rd minute but seven minutes later Salapasidis was fighting his way into the Brisbane goal box to slide one past Bolton and give the nervy home crowd something to cheer about. Cranney's equaliser could have come from any of two or three yellow shirts in a goal mouth rabble after the ball came across from the right. It wasn't a surprise. A lost and uninspired Wolves team had it coming.

The way Wolves and Brisbane played tonight they'll both be occupying positions near the bottom of the table come the end of the 1998/99 season.

I usually feel much more positive about the team than the crowd around me bagging the poor bastards (the supposed cauldron goes mighty cold when the Wolves aren't scoring); I hold to the playing ethos that you only shout encouragement (I really love my Wolves). But you could feel the need for a win tonight -- and the consequent disappointment. Pogliacomi said something about the crowd booing the team, but we thought they were just being dirty at the ref.

I still think Wolves attempt (and often succeed) in playing very pretty football. That's why we travel an hour to see them for their home games and anywhere else in NSW if at all possible. But they are also _very_ frustrating.

Which problem am I continually repeating? My theory is that if I try to be honest with my criticism of the boys I adore, then people will believe me when I brag about how good they were when they flog Carlton, South Melbourne and Perth!

It's not hard to be more optimistic, though. Apart from the very top (Perth winning so well at home), the teams are pretty close. If Wolves have the two wins that they had at a similar stage last season they'll be okay. At Edensor Park? And another 8-0 thrashing of Canberra?

I thought Surj was running pretty strong against Spirit. He was nowhere in the second half tonight, though. But even if he isn't up to some of his better games last season, when he comes off they have no idea/ideas at all.

Anyway, the _real_ problem tonight was that Matty has had his head shorn and the whole team had a Samson-ite reaction.

And the thing I'm really pissed off about (transferring my annoyance to the players) is that the bar has become a "VIP" bar (damn this professional approach and pandering to sponsors and gold pass holders) and I have to buy my VBs from the cleft under the stairs behind the grandstand.