New season, same Sydney FC.
Stunning strikes from Calem Niewenhof and Luke Brattan either side of the break were enough to give the Sky Blues a 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix.
They were made to work hard for the victory, but the result was still a statement to the rest of the competition from Sydney, who are on a quest for the A-League’s first ever three-peat.
The Nix threw everything at Sydney in the final, nailbiting 20 minutes of the game, but left Wollongong’s WIN Stadium – their home away from home this season – with no points to show for their efforts.
It had been a fairly even contest, particularly in the first half, until the defending champions went in front.
And Calem Nieuwenhof’s strike was worthy of Sydney’s first goal of the season. The 19-year-old debutant unleashed a thunderbolt off his right boot that flew into the top corner to give the Sky Blues a deserved lead on the half-hour mark. Steve Corica will be delighted with Nieuwenhof’s performance.
It was a fast-paced game, with the Nix defending admirably. But there was nothing they could do to stop Nieuwenhof’s strike.
They did, though, manage to level things up.
Wellington’s equaliser on the stroke of half time was unsighted, at least by those watching on TV. The goal may well have been a worldie from Mirza Muratovic, but the broadcast went black and viewers had to take Brenton Speed’s word for it until a replay was found.
Nevertheless, it was a sucker-punch for Sydney. They had dominated the latter part of the half and Wellington’s goal appeared to come from nowhere.
It wasn’t much of a setback for the Sky Blues, who took the lead again soon after the break when Nieuwenhof’s effort was upped by Brattan. Standing over a free-kick about 30 metres out from goal, Brattan smashed the ball with the outside of his boot into the top corner. Again, there was nothing the Phoenix could do about it.
But they came so close to snatching an equaliser deep into injury time, only for the VAR to correctly rule Tomer Hemed’s goal off-side.
Technology is a wonderful thing, but it also has a knack of failing at the most inopportune moments. With Sydney in front just minutes before the break, Wellington equalised through Mirza Muratovic. But the broadcast went black, leaving viewers completely unsighted and it wasn’t until the second half that a replay of the goal was found. And it was a wonderful finish, just as Mark Bosnich had described, not hit with great pace, but into the bottom corner, and even Phoenix’s own social media crew made light of the situation on the club’s official Twitter account.
QUEST FOR THE THREE-PEAT
If ever there was a team capable of claiming a historic three-peat, it would have to be Sydney FC. Steve Corica’s side still have plenty of work to do, but they have the squad depth – as Calem Nieuwenhof showed – to give it a real go. Of course they are without record goalscorer Adam Le Fondre, but their re-signing of Brazilian Bobo is a shrewd one.
It was far from a complete performance against Wellington, but Sydney managed to absorb intense pressure at the end to hang on for a win.
It’s going to take a huge effort for Wellington to repeat their heroics of last season, when they recorded their highest ever finish of third. A few months on and they’ve lost key players, including Steven Taylor and Liberato Cacace, and the team has essentially been displaced. Because of COVID, the Nix will play the majority, if not the whole, of their season in Wollongong. It will be a unique challenge for them, and a difficult one.
ROAR CRASH VICTORY PARTY
– Nick D’Urbano
Brisbane Roar have played spoiler in Melbourne Victory’s homecoming with an impressive 3-1 win at AAMI Park.
Warren Moon’s men took their chances when it mattered with Scott McDonald opening the scoring early on.
Callum McManaman’s scintillating strike for the Victory brought the game level to the adoration of the thousands in attendance.
However, Macauley Gillesphey and Dylan Wenzel-Halls found the net after the break to seal the Roar’s first win of the campaign.
After a frantic opening, Wenzel-Halls found himself in a pocket of space with his strayed effort turned home by McDonald in the 17th minute.
Originally, the goal was ruled offside but after an intervention by VAR, McDonald was in-fact onside – resulting in the opener.
Victory fans wouldn’t have to wait long for an equaliser as English import McManaman responded with one of the great debut goals on 25 minutes.
The 29-year-old capitalised on a slip by Brisbane’s Rahmat Akbari before cutting in onto his left and lashing the ball into the top corner.
Moments later, Grant Brebner’s charges thought they had the lead when Ansell’s header ricocheted off the post and just didn’t clear the line.
Brisbane came out of the tunnels firing and were rewarded in the 60th minute when towering defender Gillesphey nodded home from a Brown corner.
The Roar made it three on 78 minutes when Wenzel-Halls latched on to a Tom Aldred clearance and coolly put the ball home to seal the win.
Unlike days prior in their one goal loss to Melbourne City, Brisbane were clinical when it mattered.
McDonald, Gillesphey and Wenzel-Halls finishes were all the difference as Victory struggled to repel the Roar’s fleet-footed attack.
New Japanese signing Riku Danzaki and midfielder Jay O’Shea were superb and young forward Wenzel-Halls continued to show immense promise.
Moon heaped praise on Wenzel-Halls after he scored the sealer .
“You won’t come across a hungrier, a player with more desire than Dylan Wenzel-Halls,” Moon said.
“He has got the want and the will to work hard but the only thing that is missing from his game is goals,
“It’s not for a lack of trying, he is working hard and tonight I was so pleased for him.”
Moon believes the change to play a more aggressive high-tempo approach helped sway the game in his favour in the second-half.
“I thought we played a good game as a whole,” Moon said.
“We didn’t play as we wanted to in the first half, we addressed that at half-time and performed how we hoped we could heading into the game.”
Melbourne Victory head-coach Grant Brebner conceded his team ran out of gas in the second half and were able to repel the Roar’s changes at the interval.
“I didn’t know where we would be at fitness wise because we haven’t played a game for three weeks,” Brebner said.
“I didn’t see it coming at half-time either and I did think we were very good in the first half and we obviously didn’t start in the second,
“We did look a little bit flat.”
The sides will meet again on Sunday week as the Victory will look to bounce-back at Dolphin Stadium after their disappointing defeat.
“We will be able to take a lot of information out of both halves,” Brebner said.
“First and foremost I need to see how the players feel physically and their match fitness is and we can have some conversations.”
Brebner also confirmed star-winger Marco Rojas suffered a hamstring injury in the second-half which forced him from the field.
Rojas was seen to be in some discomfort early in the game but managed to play on before succumbing to the injury late on.
“He’s got a slight hamstring,” Brebner said.
“Marco indicated that he was ok, you could see that he had some issues with it in the first-half but he didn’t see it as being too much of a problem,
“He said it wasn’t getting worse at all and then when he came off he was at the point where he had to come off.”
RIP, BENJAMIN DIAZ
Melbourne Victory fans paid tribute to former North Terrace member Benjamin Diaz who passed away on December 19.
Diaz, who was 27 at the time of his passing, was one of the leaders of the Terrace and was a passionate supporter up until his sudden passing.
He was honoured by Victory fans with a round of applause in the 27th minute and a ‘tifo’ was unveiled in his memory.
A new fan favourite may be emerging in front of our very eyes.
Callum McManaman dazzled on debut scoring a cracking goal and was Victory’s best on the night, creating problems on the right flank.
The English winger showed his trademark excitement, which made him central to Wigan’s FA Cup success in 2013.
ELECTRIC MELBOURNE CROWD
Victory’s football starved faithful brought the noise in Grant Brebner’s home debut.
It has been 10 months since Melbourne-based Victory fans have been able to pack the terraces and both ends of AAMI Park were in full voice – from start to finish.
The COVID restricted crowd made it feel as if it was a full-house but were unable to will their team over the line.