Roar v Phoenix

A-League report by Jeremy Ruane
Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix

A defiant defensive effort from bottom-placed Wellington Phoenix blunted Brisbane Roar's hopes of extending their advantage at the top of the Hyundai A-League table on November 13, the reigning champions having to settle for a 1-1 draw in front of 16,428 fans at Suncorp Stadium.

As they have done with just about any opponent which has graced the same pitch as Brisbane so far this season, the title-holders set about the task of administering a footballing lesson with elan aplenty, but there were times in this match when their play appeared too over-elaborate - too much passing and probing was applied, when employing a more penetrative approach could well have brought greater reward.

It's all very well having the opposition chasing shadows, or surviving on the crumbs of possession which fall from the rich man's table, but the prime purpose of the game is to stick the ball in the back of the opposition's net and worry about the consequences afterwards.

It's a basic tenet which Brisbane sometimes seem to overlook as they bid to maintain the reputation they have carved out for themselves as arguably the best footballing side in the history of the game in Australia.

Their opening gambit in this match saw Thomas Broich and Henrique work a couple of one-twos down the left which culminated in the Brazilian bursting into the penalty area and unleashing a fourth minute shot which Wellington goalkeeper Tony Warner needed two attempts to save.

The visitors had suffered a setback in the warm-up when Dani Sanchez pulled up lame with a hip flexor problem - as if Wellington's injury list isn't already excessive enough! (And both his replacement, Daniel, and Ben Sigmund were to join the list of the walking wounded before the final whistle!)

Another setback befell them in the twelfth minute - the opening goal. Referee Jarred Gillett was in no doubt re awarding a free-kick for what appeared an innocuous challenge on the edge of the penalty area.

It was a fortuitous set-piece, but how Brisbane exploited it! Broich's free-kick picked out the league's leading scorer, completely unmarked! Besart Berisha gleefully directed home his unchallenged header to open the scoring, much to the delight of the local faithful, who had come anticipating a veritable goal feast, with Wellington the proverbial lambs to the slaughter.

They were denied a second goal to celebrate soon after when Berisha was harshly ruled offside as he produced a fine finish to do justice to Matt Jurman's through ball, while only the intervention of the outstanding Andrew Durante denied Brisbane in the nineteenth minute, as Issey Nakajima-Farran, Berisha and Frantic, on the overlap, sliced open Wellington's defence once more.

After Nick Ward had crudely conceded a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area - he was one of three bookings the visitors endured throughout proceedings, Nakajima-Farran combined to prise open the Wellington rearguard with a slick passing interchange, which Warner thwarted when saving at the feet of Massimo Murdocca.

On the half-hour, Brisbane went desperately close to opening the scoring. Broich set off on a surging run from half-way before feeding Henrique, whose shot was superbly saved by Warner.

Nakajima-Farran was following in and unleashed his piledriver at the untended target, only to hit the post. By the time the rebound fell into Murdocca's stride, Durante was back on the goal-line, and he hooked to safety the midfielder's tame attempt to increase Brisbane's lead.

Seconds later, Broich and Murdocca were in again, this time combining their talents for Nakajima-Farran to endeavour to increase the home team's advantage. "Nothing doing", said Warner, who greedily grabbed the shot.

The game's next attack was Wellington's first of the match, eight minutes before half-time, and it produced the equaliser. Leo Bertos made it with a superbly flighted cross-field ball from left to right which found Ward rampaging down the flank in anticipation of the delivery.

He cushioned it superbly and, in the same motion, steered the sphere into the stride of Tim Brown, who drilled the ball home through a static defence - 1-1, much to the delight of the scorer, playing his 100th A-League game, and the small pocket of Wellington fans who had entered the lion's den for this encounter.

Brisbane, and certainly their fans, were more than a tad stunned that the colonial upstarts from across the ditch had paid scant regard to the script by levelling the scores on the very first occasion in the match that they had sighted Michael Theoklitos' goal. It took those on the park a few minutes to recover from this setback, but they had recovered their poise before half-time.

The evidence? A patient, probing build-up, with Brisbane in possession for nigh on three minutes as they looked to find a way past Wellington's rearguard. Finally, a gap opened up, with Nakajima-Farran and Franjic teaming up on the right for the fullback to whip in a low cross for Broich. Manny Muscat stepped in to ensure the 1-1 scoreline would remain unchanged throughout the half-time break.

It took Brisbane less than fifty second half seconds to resume their examination of Wellington's defensive credentials. Erik Paartalu and Murdocca teamed up with the overlapping Franjic to engineer an opening for which Brisbane players were queuing up. They weren't alone, and Warner had the advantage of being able to use his hands to stave off the threat posed by another searching low cross.

Brisbane's pressure continued, but as it grew, so did Wellington's belief that they could perhaps get three points out of this contest. In the fiftieth minute, Bertos got in on the left to team up with Chris Greenacre, and Daniel only just failed to get on the end of his cross.

Seven minutes later, Durante's inch-perfect free-kick was matched by Daniel's sublime control on the right, which allowed him to beat Shane Stefanutto in the same movement. Greenacre was just inches away from directing the resulting cross into the back of the net.

The visitors continued to keep the league leaders honest - witness Brown's audacious sixty yard speculator which landed on the roof of Theoklitos' net. The ‘keeper had it covered, of course, but you've seen them go in...

The home team duly redoubled their efforts, and spent virtually the entire final half-hour of the match camped in Wellington's half of the pitch. A super move in the 66th minute, featuring Murdocca, substitute Kofi Danning and Franjic culminated in Broich's shot being cleared off the line by the combination of Muscat and Warner.

Sixty seconds later, Berisha was just a stride away from doing justice to another gem of a pass from Broich, after Nakajima-Farran's deft lob had let the playmaker loose down the left.

Warner parried a thirty yard piledriver from substitute Luke Brattan to safety in the 69th minute, and was relieved to see the ball flash past his post six minutes later, Broich and Berisha having combined to present Danning with a chance from which he should have scored.

Wellington were putting in a terrific defensive shift, and deserved the stroke of good fortune which befell them eight minutes from time. Another glorious Brisbane move saw the ball fizzing around the park until Brattan split the defence with a pass which played in Franjic on the right.

He touched the ball back for Danning to steer into the stride of Berisha, only for Warner to block superbly at the feet of the league's leading scorer. But the ball rolled invitingly into the stride of Nakajima-Farran - with the goal at his mercy, he must score, surely … they are still searching for the ball among the parked cars outside the stadium!!

Five minutes from time, the visitors gave Brisbane another scare, forcing a corner. Bertos' delivery was met by substitute Brent Griffiths, whose header across goal invited Greenacre to swoop. Theoklitos punched the ball off his head to avert the danger, and send the home team back onto the attack for the remainder of the match.

But Wellington weren't to be denied a share of the spoils. Berisha directed a header narrowly past the post in the dying minutes - Broich and Franjic combined to create the opening, while the German's mazy run past four players culminated in him pulling a twenty-five yarder past the upright - his enterprise merited better execution.

Deep in stoppage time, Broich sent Nakajima-Farran scurrying down the left, and he got in behind the defence to drive a cross-shot towards Warner's near post. The goalkeeper, anticipating a cross, dived backwards to paw the goal-bound ball to safety and in doing so, confirmed a hard-earned point for Wellington at the home of the league leaders, whose 34th game without defeat edges them ever closer to an Australian sporting record.