The Wellington Phoenix dominated a tough Melbourne Victory side at AAMI Park, in a feisty match that featured 10 yellow cards, one red card and plenty of drama.
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Despite dominating possession for the majority of the match and having more chances at goal – 18 attempts by Wellington versus 11 for Melbourne – the Phoenix weren’t able to capitalise on the numerical advantage against a home side that were forced to setup more defensively in the second half.
The Phoenix were also strong defensively, keeping a clean sheet for the first time this season – thanks to some brilliant saves by goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic and solid defensive work from Steven Taylor, Luke DeVere and Cameron Devlin. They also managed to keep Victory’s star striker Ola Toivonen goalless against Wellington for the first time in his Hyundai A-League career.
Devlin shined in his first start of the season, filling in admirably for injured midfielder Alex Rufer by using his blinding speed and energy; in the process winning seven fouls against the home side and creating havoc in their passing lanes.
The match started with Melbourne getting initial possession, only to have Devlin make a great interception and push it up to Jaushua Sotirio, who was unable to make anything of it. Not long after, rising star Ulises Davila had an early shot at goal that was easily caught by Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas.
Phoenix controlled possession early on but couldn’t turn it into shots on goal, as they looked for holes in the defence to exploit. In a sign of things to come, a dangerous tackle on Reno Piscopo went uncalled by the referees; fortunately the Melbourne-born midfielder was able to shake it off.
Victory was able to get possession and had a series of unsuccessful attempts at goal. A strike by Andrew Nabbout, Victory’s first goal attempt in 15 minutes, was shut down by DeVere and sailed wide of the goal. A follow-up attempt by Toivonen was brilliantly saved by Marinovic.
Phoenix went back on attack with an attempt by Piscopo just outside the box that sailed high over the goal. Then at 27 minutes, Sotirio and David Ball partnered up on an exciting attack sequence but were not able to get off a shot.
Things got chippy as James Domachie earned a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Ball, then taking a shot at an approaching Matti Steinmann seconds later in what should’ve been a red card for striking. A follow up yellow card on Migjen Basha two minutes later, clearly demonstrated that these two teams weren’t particularly fond of one another.
Three more chances at goal for the Phoenix; as Sotirio attempted a shot from far outside the box that Thomas was lucky to get a hand on, then a minute later a chance by Davila that went safely into the hands of Thomas. Then at 42 minutes a strong attempt by Liberato Cacace that Thomas was also able to scoop up.
Just before half-time the Victory had two of their best attempts of the night; the first by Kristijan Dobras which was batted away by Marinovic, hitting the post in the process. Then Toivonen couldn’t convert a free kick in extra time, after Sotirio had bought down Kruse on the edge of the box.
Half-time sounded with neither team able to get on the scoreboard, but with Wellington Phoenix impressing with their passing, control in possession and chances at goal that couldn’t be converted. Meanwhile Melbourne seemed content to play an overly physical style of play, which they had debuted against the Phoenix earlier in the season.
The second half began with Phoenix continuing to control possession and both teams furiously attempting to get a goal in the books. At 52 minutes, a Phoenix corner was swung in as defender Luke DeVere rose up and headed at the crossbar with the ball bouncing off the line – a review confirmed that while it came agonisingly close to a goal, the referee’s call was correct.
The frustrations boiled over for Melbourne, with Dobras earning a straight red card for a high kick on Devlin, just as the aggressor was about to be subbed off. Although Piscopo was unable to convert the free kick, the Phoenix now had the advantage with Victory being a player down.
With a numerical advantage on the pitch, the Phoenix pressed the attack but weren’t able to make the most of the situation.
With Gary Hooper subbing in at 68 minutes, his first touch of the ball was a gorgeous setup for Davila that the latter couldn’t convert. Then a headed attempt by Cacace at 77 minutes was lucky to be saved by Thomas, followed by a solid attempt by Devlin that failed to connect.
And meanwhile the yellow cards kept piling up for the Victory, with Toivonen, Leigh Broxham and Jakob Poulsen all earning one each in a span of five minutes. The Melbourne squad were clearly upset by the referee’s decisions despite their obvious aggressive play.
An attempt by Toivonen at 83 minutes looked promising but went well to the side of the goal. The Phoenix raced straight back on attack and a strike by Davila got lost in a crowded box against some strong Victory defence – the home team doing extremely well to repel several dominant Phoenix attacks.
Wellington’s chances continued on attack, with numerous attempts at goal that were well defended by Melbourne Victory despite them being a man down. At full time both teams were no doubt happy to see the back of each other, with Wellington rueing their chances at an easy win and Victory left seeing yellow – both in the jerseys of Phoenix players streaking past them all night long, and the numerous yellow cards they were served for their transgressions.
After the match, Devlin was reflective on the match and the way the Phoenix controlled the match.
“We came in with full confidence; I felt like we dominated the goal and we probably should’ve picked up a win here tonight.”
The Wellington Phoenix are now unbeaten in their last five matches (W3, D2) and currently sit at 5th on the ladder; four points behind fourth-placed Adelaide United.
The Wellington Phoenix return back to New Zealand for their last home match of the year; taking on Sydney FC at Westpac Stadium, 4.45pm NZST on Saturday 21st December 2019.
Wellington Phoenix Starting XI
1. Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 3. Luke DEVERE, 5. Matti STEINMANN, 6. Tim Payne, 7. Reno PISCOPO, 8. Cameron DEVLIN, 9. David BALL, 10. Ulises DAVILA, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 13. Liberato CACACE, 27. Steven TAYLOR (c)
Melbourne Victory Starting XI
4. James DONACHIE, 6. Leigh BROXHAM, 8. Jakob POULSEN, 9. Andrew NABBOUT, 10. Robbie KRUSE, 11. Ola TOIVONEN, 18. Migjen BASHA, 20. Lawrence THOMAS (gk), 21. Adama TRAORE, 22. Kristijan DOBRAS, 24. Anthony LESIOTIS
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
69’ ON 88.Gary HOOPER OFF 7. Reno PISCOPO
80’ ON 21. Callum MCCOWATT OFF 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO
87’ ON 31. Benjamin WAINE OFF 5. Matti STEINMANN
Melbourne Victory Substitutions
74’ ON 26. Jay BARNETT OFF 18. Migjen BASHA
87’ ON 26. Elvis KAMSOBA OFF 9. Andrew NABBOUT
90+3 ON 2. Storm ROUX OFF 10. Robbie KRUSE
Next Match details
Round 11 – Wellington Phoenix versus Sydney FC at Westpac Stadium, Wellington; Saturday 21st December 2019, 4.45pm NZT