Phoenix v Glory

A-League report by Jeremy Ruane
Wellington Phoenix v Perth Glory

Wellington Phoenix climbed off the bottom of the Hyundai A-League table at Westpac Stadium on December 7, the 8,039 fans delighting in their 3-0 victory over the nine men of Perth Glory, who the victorious team have leapfrogged with this win.

But it's not one of which Wellington should be overly proud, because the quality of their performance was not good at all. They have played far better than this and lost! And shown far more composure and discipline in the process. No, this was definitely not Wellington's finest hour-and-a-half by any stretch of the imagination.

Nor was it Perth's. Two straight red cards and three bookings indicate the source of their concerns, because they played the better football in this match, and things may well have been different had they been at full strength throughout.

But any such hopes evaporated just shy of the half-hour mark, prior to which both teams had enjoyed opportunities to open the scoring.

The game started at a frenetic pace, with Leo Bertos making the most of a rare outing in his home town to lead the Perth charge. Wellington enjoyed the better of the early exchanges, beginning in the second minute with a slick one-two on the left between Tony Lochhead and Shane Smeltz which saw the former storm down the flank before whipping in a cross which completely deceived Perth goalkeeper, Tando Velaphi.

The 'keeper didn't have a clue as Lochhead's swerving cross-shot cannoned off the near post and into the heart of the goalmouth. Dino Djulbic was beating a hasty retreat, and looked to hook the ball clear. But Smeltz was closing fast, and the ball ricocheted off the striker and careered over the crossbar.

Five minutes later, Vince Lia played the ball wide to Lochhead, who did Jamie Coyne an absolute treat with his feint before darting into the space behind the outfoxed fullback.

But all Lochhead's magic went to waste when the overlapping fullback's cross found its way to Ahmad Elrich, as he arrived unmarked on the far side of the penalty area. His first touch was woeful, and as for his finish - high, wide and anything but handsome!

Perth responded initially via a surge from long-term injury absentee Hayden Foxe, for whom this match marked a welcome return to action. He surged forward and threaded the ball through for Jamie Harnwell, who was forced to the by-line after rounding Glen Moss.

Wellington managed to stave off that threat, but could only clear the ball as far as David Micevski, whose tame shot through the crowd took a deflection off James Robinson and ended up in the grateful gloves of Moss.

Five minutes later, Felipe Campos gifted possession to Perth in the centre-circle. Bertos took full advantage and switched the ball to Robinson, who evaded the challenge of Steven Old before lashing his shot over the bar.

Lochhead's sizzling 21st minute strike at the other end of the park enjoyed a similar fate to Robinson's effort, but it was Perth who next hit the woodwork, Bertos? lobbed effort arcing over Moss but hitting the far post. Wellington scrambled the ball to safety.

The entire complexion of the game changed in the 28th minute, when Perth were reduced to ten men. Felipe and Kristian Rees combined to send Vaughan Coveny racing into the penalty area, and Nikolai Topor-Stanley, the last defender, sent the striker tumbling with a tackle from behind.

Referee Srebre Delovski had no option - out came the red card, and off went the defender. Smeltz had no option either, his being to put the ball in the net from the penalty spot and give Wellington the lead against the ten men, the fourth successive fixture in which the New Zealand entry has faced Australian opposition sporting reduced numbers.

The striker sent Velaphi the wrong way from the spot, and after being 1-0 up in the 29th minute, Wellington swiftly found themselves two goals to the good just two minutes later.

A frankly awful free-kick from Mitchell Prentice was cleared with conviction by Lia, who picked out Elrich. The speedster stormed downfield, leading a counter-attack down the right before scything inside towards the penalty area, to allow Smeltz to go on the overlap.

The scorer of the first goal duly received a measured pass from Elrich, and whipped in a first time cross towards the far post, where Felipe was arriving to turn the ball home amid Perth appeals for an offside flag which smacked of desperation.

Which fairly reflected the situation the visitors now found themselves in. Two goals down and a man down against the team who they were ahead of on goal difference at kick-off, Perth swiftly got frustrated with their plight, and were fortunate to avoid a second sending-off soon afterwards.

Prentice and Smeltz got in a right tangle after the Kiwi hauled the Australian back by his arm in the 36th minute, and the impeded player quickly retaliated. It was hands on throats and bulging eyeballs time within seconds as each player took umbrage at the other's actions, and they were swiftly pulled apart before either did something they'd regret.

After consulting with his assistant, referee Delovski issued a yellow card to both players. They were fortunate he wasn't brandishing a card darker in hue. David Micevski followed the pair into the official's notebook within seconds, but things soon calmed down, and eventually some football broke out once again.

Three minutes before half-time, Felipe sparked a delightful move by Wellington which was deserving of better fate. The Brazilian played the ball wide to Elrich, whose first-time cross found Coveny launching himself into a full-length diving header. His goalbound effort ricocheted off Harnwell, and came at Smeltz too quickly for him to capitalise on the rebound.

Deep in stoppage time at the end of the first half, the ten men came close to securing a much-needed lifeline when Micevski's driving run took him to the edge of the penalty area, from where he let fly.

Moss parried his effort, but Karl Dodd passed the ball back to his grateful goalkeeper, prompting referee Delovski to award an indirect free-kick eight yards out from goal. Bertos touched the ball to Harnwell, whose shot cannoned off the crossbar, under which stood the massed ranks of Wellington's line-up.

Having finished the first half on the offensive, Perth began the second spell in the same vein, having introduced substitute Jerry Karpeh to the fray. He made a notable difference to the visitors? display, giving them a target up front who could hold off defenders while holding up the ball, and generally giving Wellington something to think about whenever he was near the sphere.

The newcomer wasn't involved in the visitors? first attack of the half, which saw Robinson surging forward from half-way before slipping a pass to Nikita Rukavytsya. The striker unleashed a curling effort which was turned away at full stretch by Moss.

Wellington failed to adequately clear this threat, meaning Perth were swiftly back in possession. Robinson beat Rees in an aerial duel and headed the ball down to Harnwell, who flicked it on into Karpeh's path. The striker poked the ball past the advancing figure of Moss, but just past the near post as well.

It was a let-off for the home team, and Elrich looked to make the most of it virtually straight away. Catching Coyne in possession on half-way, the speedster hurtled down the right and fired in a teasing cross-shot which had Velaphi back-pedalling, the goalkeeper ultimately tipping the dipping effort over the crossbar.

After Djulbic had sent a header flashing wide following a Bertos corner, Wellington had the ball in the net for a third time in the 67th minute, with Lia heading home an Elrich free-kick. The goal was ruled out, however, Old deemed to have impeded Velaphi as both leapt for the ball in the goalmouth.

Four minutes later, Wellington were celebrating again, and this time the goal stood. Some superb work on the left by Lia saw his close control followed by an exquisite cross which picked out Smeltz splendidly. The striker steered his header beyond the diving figure of Velaphi to put the home team 3-0 up against the ten men.

Make that the nine men, for with seventeen minutes left, Harnwell's frustrations got the better of him as he scythed down Coveny from behind. Referee Delovski wielded the red card once more, and effectively ended the game as a contest.

There were further chances to score for Lochhead, Smeltz and surprise Wellington substitute Daniel, while Bertos? thumping thirty yard free-kick was tipped over the bar by Moss as Perth sought a consolation goal three minutes from time.

But they'll take no consolation from this 3-0 outcome, their third defeat at the hands of Wellington this season, one which leaves the Western Australians firmly entrenched at the bottom of the Hyundai A-League table once again.