Power v Wolves

Round 6 report by Paul Goodwin
Parramatta Power v Wollongong Wolves

Ten-man Wollongong Wolves drew on all their championship-winning qualities to overcome adversity and comfortably defeat Parramatta Power in Sydney on a suddenly sunny, Sunday afternoon.

After losing wing-back Dino Mennillo in only the 27th minute, following a bad, late tackle on Parramatta striker Joel Griffiths, which brought the red card from referee Simon Micallef for both the offence and a serious incident of dissent, the Wolves knuckled down to their task and went on to win the game with a minimum of fuss.

It did not look good for the league leaders during most of the first half as their players picked up four cautions and did not appear to be disciplined enough to win the game, a fear which intensified with the send-off.

While the Wolves had always looked the more likely to score, it was not until the second half that they put their minds on the job all over the park and began to dominate opponents who were, despite how it may have looked, one man better off.

Roared on by a healthy contingent of visiting supporters Wollongong began to realise that the game was there for the winning rather than just being a case of holding on for a valuable point.

Parramatta squandered what chances they had enjoyed themselves in the first half and created even fewer opportunities in the second.

Grant Barlow, in the Wollongong goal, really had no more than one crucial save to make in the opening 45 minutes as his well-drilled defence took very good care of any threat from Griffiths or his roving partner Joe Miller.

David Cervinski did a particularly good job in the danger zone for his side and sweeper Ben Blake was a willing accomplice.

Barlow did well to tip an Ahmad Elrich lob over the bar in the 13th minute, but the same player had seen an earlier attempt bundled away by the Wolves defence and Miller's shot had also flown over the bar.

When Mennillo rashly went into a tackle on a marauding Griffiths out wide on the right and then showed his displeasure at being given a card by the referee, who had already spoken to him about dissent, the colour of card produced quickly changed to red.

From the resultant free kick by Miller, Nick Orlic could only head wide and it was at the other end that the best chance then arrived.

Saso Petrovski stole possession in sight of goal and descended on Andrew Crews' goal with clear intent, but the Power stand-in keeper spread himself well to block the shot at very close range and keep the scoresheet blank.

Milan Blagojevic's drive narrowly cleared the bar in the 32nd after a long throw by Peter Bennett and Andrew Clark fired wide with a volley in the 40th after a ball had been cleverly threaded through by Griffiths.

Time wasting and some later dissent produced three further cautions for an obviously flustered visiting team in the closing minutes of the first period, but it was a different story when they returned from their break.

Both keepers made good saves in the opening moments, Barlow getting down well to a low, Orlic drive after a long throw from Barrett and Crews taking care of a Petrovski shot following Chipperfield's left side cross, prompted by Cervinski's insight and industry in the lead- up.

Wollongong took the lead in the 59th minute with a regulation header from Petrovski who ghosted in between two flat-footed Power defenders to meet an inswinging corner from the right by Scott Chipperfield.

Within a minute Parramatta supporters thought their side had immediately drawn level, but assistant referee Craig Pearce had already raised his flag before Power's half-time substitute Hamilton Thorp nodded in a crisp cross from Griffiths, provided by the blond-haired striker from just inside the box.

Shots from Blagojevic, on three occasions, all failed to hit the target, though well struck, and the extra effort needed by the home side to get back in the game left gaps for the ten-man Wolves to exploit.

Wollongong played with poise and polish and kept possession perfectly as the game wore on.

Never panicking and using the ball wisely and well, they just did not let Parramatta see enough of the ball to really offer any threat.

Instead, they extended their lead in the 68th, with another piece of expert running-off-the-ball by Paul Reid - who had split the defence with a run minutes earlier - to latch onto a diagonal pass sent left by the wily Petrovski.

Reid was forced wide by Crews, who could not get close enough to make a fair challenge and managed only to clip at the Wolves' player's heels. Reid stumbled slightly, but, though faced with a very tight angle, kept his composure to tuck the ball away, in off the right hand post for the 2-0 lead.

It almost became three when Petrovski did well to keep the ball in play and sent over a pinpoint cross from the byline, which Stuart Young converged on, only for Crews to make the best save of the game.

Blagojevic clipped the right post with another long-range effort in the last few minutes, but, unlike their opponents, Parramatta lacked the conviction needed to force their way back into the game and their players were well beaten at the finish; by a team of ten men.

Griffiths had better support as a front runner for Power with Thorp coming on for the second half, but not enough to make a real impact and it seems clear that more creative players are needed by the western Sydney side who badly lack penetration.

Wollongong overcame an ill-disciplined start to win the game in accomplished fashion and could be on their way to another title if they can keep the same side together throughout the season.

That may be their biggest challenge.