November 3, 2014 – 10:38PM
Senior sports reporter with The Age
Kosta Barbarouses congratulates Conor Pain after his goal in the win against Wellington at AAMI Park on Monday night. Photo: Getty Images
Wellington Phoenix had never beaten Melbourne Victory in the Victorian capital, but with Kevin Muscat’s team missing four of this season’s regular starters through injury and suspension, Ernie Merrick’s Kiwi visitors would rarely get a better chance.
They departed AAMI Park in their usual manner after Victory’s makeshift side, with midfielders Mark Milligan and Leigh Broxham deputising as centre backs, continued its remarkable run against Phoenix and took all three points.
The 2-0 win, with a first-half goal to Brazilian midfielder Gui Finkler and a second-half strike to young forward Connor Pain, ensured Victory regained its position at the top of the A-League table with 10 points through three wins and a draw.
Adelaide United and Sydney are also on 10, but with an inferior goal differences.
Muscat had not hesitated to trust young players and squad members when he was juggling his selections during last season’s Asian Champions League campaign and that faith was repaid in this game.
It was, as he had said before, a match that would test the club’s playing depths as the likes of Matthieu Delpierre, Besart Berisha, Daniel Georgievski and Adrian Leijer were unavailable.
Victory’s Tunisian winger, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, was clearly out to prove a point in this, his first A-League start since his off-season move from French League Two side Troyes.
The wide man won a free kick inside 30 seconds after a tussle with Phoenix full back Louis Fenton, and that was a taste of things to come in a combative first half in which he went into referee Shaun Evans’ notebook but also featured in most of the host’s forward thrusts down the left flank.
Kosta Barbarouses has been in rare form in the early weeks of the season and he continued where he had left off in the opening exchanges of this game, running directly at the Phoenix defenders whenever he got the opportunity.
The Kiwi international, himself an ex-Phoenix player, created space nicely but could only fire over, while in the 10th minute he was involved in a move with Finkler which the visitors did not deal with, the ball sitting up invitingly for Carl Valeri. Alas for the Victory faithful, the Socceroo midfielder spurned a decent opportunity by shooting over the bar.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic, however. The Phoenix were well organised and kept their shape, snapping in for tackles and pressing Victory players whenever they got the ball. But they found it difficult, in the early stages, to manufacture any clearcut openings.
Ben Khalfallah picked up a booking in the 18th minute and shortly afterwards won the free kick that led to the goal that separated the sides at the interval.
It looked as though the best Finkler might hope for, from the position he was in, was for a teammate to get a head or a flick to his set piece in the 24th minute. But he whipped in a curving ball which somehow evaded Phoenix’s defenders as well as Victory’s strikers and, crucially, Nix goalkeeper Glen Moss as it skidded through into the net.
Phoenix launched its most dangerous attack on the half-hour mark when Nathan Burns got clear and flashed a shot across the face of the Victory goal which none of his teammates could get to.
Former Ajax and NAC Breda midfielder Roly Bonevacia then tried to spark the visitors with a surging run from deep.
Merrick shook things up at half-time, bringing on Jeremy Brockie in place of Alex Rodriguez. Phoenix had been well organised and had kept its shape well in the first half, but had lacked a genuine cutting edge, so bringing on the NZ international striker to play alongside Burns and another All White attacker, Michael McGlinchey, was designed to rectify that.
It looked as though the former Victory coach’s tactical switch might pay dividends as the visitors looked far more threatening.
But it was Victory who were to strike again – and it was substitute Conor Pain who was next to get on the scoresheet.
Muscat replaced Ben Khalfallah with Pain in the 67th minute and the youngster was on target within a minute of making his entrance following a simple but hugely effective move.
Barbarouses’ sweeping cross-field pass found Thompson, who brought the ball under control before sliding a through pass on to the running Pain. The 20-year-old struck the ball low, and it beat Glen Moss through his legs to double the hosts’ advantage.
It was the breathing space Victory needed to complete the job.
Source : The Canberra Times