Phoneix v Sydney

A-League report by Jeremy Ruane
Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC

A last-gasp penalty by Ufuk Talay earned Sydney FC a point from their 1-1 draw with Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium on November 17, but the visitors should have gone home with all three in a tempestuous affair which both sides completed with ten players on the park.

Sydney's finishing was woeful - high, wide and anything but handsome on far too many occasions. When they did get the ball on target, however, Wellington goalkeeper Glen Moss was in stunning form - he kept his side in the match, without question.

His opposite number, Clint Bolton, was hardly called upon in a match which saw his defenders twice scrambled the ball to safety in the first six minutes, as Wellington looked to score an early goal in a game in which they were deprived of five players on international duty with the All Whites.

After Juninho had curled one past the post - a stray pass from Karl Dodd, the first but by no means the last in this match by a Phoenix player, created the opening in the seventh minute - Wellington enjoyed the better of the exchanges between the teams.

Felipe Campos fired the first shot requiring a save in the fourteenth minute, after linking to good effect with Vaughan Coveny and Daniel on the edge of the penalty area.

The Brazilian went closer still four minutes later, his free-kick being scrambled clear by Sydney after Mark Rudan had crudely curtailed Coveny's charge on the edge of the penalty area.

Bolton was then forced to parry to safety a thirty yarder from Michael Ferrante which sizzled low through a crowd of players, but Sydney's goalkeeper was soon applauding the exploits of his opposite number, after Moss pulled off a breathtaking save in the 23rd minute.

Michael Bridges made monkeys out of a couple of Wellington defenders as he engineered an opening on the left, from where he clipped an inviting cross into the near post area.

The league's leading goalscorer, Alex Brosque, had cleverly dropped off his marker to create a tad more space, which enabled him to execute a neat volley. But for the brilliance of Moss, he would have had his seventh goal of the season - the ?keeper's reflex save was right off the top shelf!

How Bolton wished he could have replicated it five minutes later. Wellington's deep angled crosses had been causing Sydney a fair few problems to this point in the game, and on this occasion, Vince Lia's delivery picked out Coveny, who headed the ball across goal. Sydney captain Tony Popovic scrambled the ball out for a corner, but it merely staved off the inevitable for a few more seconds.

Daniel's delivery picked out the head of new Wellington recruit Kristian Rees, whose close-range header was blocked. The rebound fell invitingly for Phoenix captain Ross Aloisi, who swivelled and lashed home the opening goal from six yards - 1-0 Wellington, and a deserved lead to this point.

Soon after the opening goal, Sydney began to test the home team's new-look rearguard, in which Rees formed part of a three-man defence, alongside Dodd and Steven Old - the trio performed well, while their team-mates ahead of them grew in confidence upon having opened the scoring, a measure of which was their delightful passing interchanges, a number of which often stretched the visiting defence.

But the visitors were growing as an attacking force, even if their creativity wasn?t reflected on the scoreboard. Moss saved well from Brosque on the half-hour, and denied the striker again five minutes later, following a Juninho corner.

The former World Cup winner fired a twenty yard free-kick over the bar three minutes before the interval, before setting off on a lovely run past two opponents which was crudely curtailed by a third. Unperturbed, Juninho's quick thinking saw his quickly taken free-kick catch Wellington napping, as Bridges cut in from the left. Moss proved equal to this effort as well.

The tone for the second half was set three minutes into it by referee Peter Green. Having booked Popovic seconds before Aloisi opened the scoring, the opportunity presented itself to the official to send off Sydney's captain in the 48th minute, after he elbowed Coveny in an off-the-ball incident, then compounded matters by shoving the striker as the former All White stood his ground.

Both players should have been yellow-carded, Coveny for retaliation. But referee Green, quite frankly, bottled it, his decision to opt for calming words rather than more affirmative action akin to setting alight the fuse on a box of firecrackers.

From that moment on, the game took on tinderbox proportions, and there were plenty of niggly moments to test the patience of all-comers. Not helping Sydney's cause was the fact they were trailing on the scoreboard in a match they daren?t lose, given the close nature of the league table.

Wellington were performing with a composure rarely associated with their play. But it was their opponents who were creating more and more openings, such as in the 51st minute. David Zdrillic picked out Bridges with a cross, and the striker's quick feet in the penalty area rewarded Brosque.

His shot was splendidly parried by Moss at point-blank range, the goalkeeper recovering to grab Bridges? effort, as the striker fired the rebound goalwards from a prone position.

Wellington's goalkeeper couldn?t do it all, however, but Dodd came to his rescue in the 62nd minute. Bridges powered past Lia on the right and picked out Brosque with a cross which the striker met on the volley. His goalbound effort was headed over his own crossbar by Dodd.

Three minutes later, Robbie Middleby played the ball across to Juninho, who evaded a couple of challenges before slipping a slide-rule ball in between defenders for Bridge to stride onto inside the penalty area.

Needless to say, Sydney's marquee signing was as frustrated as his team-mates as Moss once again prevailed, a feat he repeated in the 68th minute, this time denying Zdrillic after he had found himself the recipient of the enterprising play of Juninho and Bridges.

Things took a turn for the worse for Sydney a minute later, when justice was finally served. Referee Green had no choice but to administer Popovic his long-overdue red card after the defender was guilty of pulling down Daniel, an act of stupidity which left the visiting team with ten men on the park for the duration.

It was ten men against tiring opponents, though, the efforts of Michael Ferrante an Aloisi, in particular, notwithstanding. But such was the defiance of Moss that the home team was effectively playing with twelve - if he's not the best goalkeeper in the A-League this season, something's rotten in the state of Denmark!

Once again he stood tall when called upon, plucking a 75th minute corner from the skies before releasing Daniel with a throw which launched a counter-attack. The Brazilian steamed downfield before linking with his countryman, Felipe, who had been full of delicate touches throughout proceedings. This time, he went solo, beating a defender before letting fly with a shot which deflected to safety.

A second Wellington goal would have killed Sydney off, no question. But if the game was going to witness a second goal, the odds on the home team providing it were diminishing by the minute, as the visitors made light of their numerically challenged state to pound away in search of an equaliser.

Nine minutes from time, Talay clipped a free-kick into the near post area, where the unmarked figure of Brosque rose to direct a header goalwards. Moss reacted magnificently, his fingertip save turning a near-certain goal onto the upright and to safety.

Seconds after Dodd stopped a Middleby shot flush in the face, an Adam Biddle shot ricocheted to safety as Sydney kept up the pressure. Substitute Royce Brownlie afforded Wellington's defence a rare respite in the 88th minute as he linked with Felipe, but shot tamely at Bolton, who promptly launched another Sydney raid.

Bridge led the charge, slipping Biddle into the penalty area. But before the youngster could pounce, Moss was saving at the substitute's feet - surely he would not be beaten now?

Alas, for Wellington, he was, from the penalty spot in stoppage time. Lia was the source of the home team's lament, his wayward pass towards Dodd, as they looked to play out time by retaining possession, being pounced on by a Sydney team desperate to secure a share of the spoils.

Bridges raced into the penalty area, and went to ground as Old hauled him down. Referee Green had no option - spot-kick, and a red card for the offender, whose second bookable offence this was. Up stepped Talay to send man-of-the-match Moss the wrong way from the spot, and secure Sydney a point they more than deserved.