FFA Cup semi-final review: Wellington Phoenix vs. Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory have brought an end to the Wellington Phoenix’s finest FFA Cup run.

The A-League leaders have beaten the Phoenix 4-1 in the second semi-final at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong, after trailing 1-0 at halftime.

English forward Gary Hooper gave Wellington the first-half lead and hope of securing a place in their first final in club history.

But Victory equalised midway through the second-half, took the lead in the 80th minute and scored a further two goals to secure their place in next Saturday’s FFA Cup decider against Central Coast Mariners.

Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay had mixed emotions when he spoke to media after the match.

“Very disappointed but still proud of the boys of what they’ve achieved with the Cup run,” Talay said.

“I thought tactically we did it very well in the first half, we got our goal that we were looking for.

“I think we them defended well. I think we nullified their wingers from hurting us and receiving the ball from facing forward. So tactically until the 60th minute we did quite well.

“One thing we lacked was legs towards the back end of the game.”

Talay was disappointed to concede four goals in the last half an hour.

“First goal was a shot from outside the box, I thought we could have dealt with it better and then the second one I think we can defend a lot better.

“And then after that once we were 2-1 down we made a change to try to get back into the game and there was a bit more space for them to exploit.”

The Phoenix’s depth was tested as they were without regulars Tim Payne and Clayton Lewis, while experienced English defender Scott Wootton wasn’t ready to make his debut for the club.

“The difference between us and them is the depth of the squad to be honest,” Talay said.

“They changed their whole front four which changed the game for them.

“I think relying on 11 players to finish 90 minutes is a lot to ask and not having that depth in the squad hurts you as well.”

Ufuk Talay made two enforced changes to his starting XI, with young defender Finn Surman and Italian-Australian midfielder Nicholas Pennington replacing Payne and Lewis, who started the All Whites’ 3-1 defeat to Jordan in Abu Dhabi on Saturday morning.

It was just Surman’s second start and the first since the 18-year-old played the full 90 minutes of the Phoenix’s 1-0 win over Western United in the round of 32, also at GMHBA Stadium.

He was called into action early. Surman cut out a threatening cross from the ever-dangerous Ben Folami in the third minute and moments later closed down Jake Brimmer in the Phoenix box.

Wellington had their first goalscoring opportunity in the 20th minute, when captain Alex Rufer headed a Reno Piscopo corner over the bar from just six yards out.

The Phoenix grew into the game and Hooper had a couple of chances to break deadlock. He was unable to get on the end of an enticing cross from David Ball after half an hour and then four minutes later blazed wide from inside the box after Ball again looked to link-up with his strike partner.

The Victory found the side-netting from a corner and blazed over the Wellington goal a few times but were unable to test young ‘keeper Alex Paulsen in the first-half.

Hooper found the target six minutes out from halftime. The English striker got on the end of a delightful first-time ball from Piscopo and slotted past Ivan Kelava in the Victory goal to give the Phoenix the lead.

Wellington made a bright start to the second-half and potentially should have had their second goal in the 48th minute when Gael Sandoval delivered a dangerous free-kick. But Ball couldn’t find the telling touch at the back post.

Phoenix forward Jaushua Sotirio had the ball in the back of the net in the 61st minute, moments after coming on as a substitute for Sandoval, but the goal was disallowed for off-side after Kelava had produced a good save to deny Ball.

Paulsen was forced to make his first save of the match in the 63rd minute, comfortably parrying away a shot from Folami.

He was unable to stop Victory captain Josh Brillante moments later when he unleashed a powerful shot into Paulsen’s right hand corner to draw Melbourne level.

There were few opportunities for either side until the 80th minute, when Victory winger Robbie Kruse went on a mazy run, got to the byline and teed up fellow substitute Nicholas D’Agostino, who blasted the ball into the Wellington net.

The Phoenix went searching for an equaliser but were caught with a sucker punch five minutes from fulltime, when Folami broke forward and clinically slotted past Paulsen to score the Victory’s third.

D’Agostino scored the hosts’ fourth goal as the game was about to enter stoppage time to inflict a harsh score line on the Nix.

The Wellington Phoenix will now turn their attentions to the Isuzu UTE A-League, with their next match against Macarthur FC on Sunday week.

Wellington Phoenix: 
40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 7. Gael SANDOVAL (11. Jaushua SOTIRIO 54th), 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON (18. Ben WAINE 86th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 16. Louis FENTON, 19. Sam SUTTON, 21. Joshua LAWS, 33. Finn SURMAN (3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI 69th), 88. Gary HOOPER
Unused substitutes: 30. Henry GRAY (gk), 5. James MCGARRY, 8. Ben OLD, 17. Callan ELLIOT

Melbourne Victory: 20. Ivan KELAVA (gk), 3. Jason DAVIDSON, 5. Matthew SPIRANOVIC, 6. Leigh BROXHAM, 8. Joshua BRILLANTE (c), 9. Francesca MARGIOTTA (18. Nicholas D’AGOSTINO 66th), 11. Ben FOLAMI (24. Nishan VELUPILLAY 90th), 16. Stefan NIGRO, 21. Roderick MIRANDA (13. Birkan KIRDAR 70th), 22. Jake BRIMMER (10. Robbie KRUSE 66th), 23. Marco ROJAS (7. Christopher IKONOMIDIS 66th)
Unused substitutes: 1. Matthew ACTON (gk), 37. Edmond LUPANCU

88. Gary HOOPER (Wellington Phoenix) – 39th
8. Joshua BRILLANTE (Melbourne Victory) – 65th
18. Nicholas D’AGOSTINO (Melbourne Victory) – 80th
11. Ben FOLAMI (Melbourne Victory) – 85th
18. Nicholas D’AGOSTINO (Melbourne Victory) – 90th

5. Matthew SPIRANOVIC (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 87th