I’ve just this minute watched Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United play out a 1-1 draw at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington and I’m fucking pissed off. I hate to sound like a broken record on this blog, and I know I had a good whine about Mike Dean ruining the game between Man United and Arsenal the other day, but given that this match was played in a different league on the other side of the world, I feel entitled to have another moan.
Wellington fully deserved to take three points from this game against Adelaide which wasn’t always the most fluent affair and saw some full-blooded commitment on show from both sides, but it was on the whole an entertaining affair. The Phoenix had plenty of chances to win it too and Tim Brown needs to visit finishing school after missing three absolute sitters, but they were well and truly robbed by possibly the worst offside decision I’ve ever seen.
After a long period of heavy pressure as the second half drew to a close, the ‘Nix finally had their breakthrough, a Chris Greenacre knock down being slipped through for Paul Ifill to race onto, and the Barbadian hitman finished it with aplomb to the delight of everyone in the Westpac stadium – apart from the wee group of Adelaide fans who made it, good effort to them – until they realised that the linesman hadn’t raised his flag in a gesture of celebration but to rule out the goal.
It was a mystifying decision. So much so that when Ricki Herbert realised what had happened, he actually took off towards the official in question with red mist descending in front of his eyes, appearing far less like the ‘Retro’ Ricki that we see on Yellow Fever shirts around Wellington, and more like some sort of Jack-Nicholas-in-The-Shining lookalike Raging Ricki. And quite rightly so.
Watching from Nelson on the TV, I had the benefit of a an immediate TV replay but even on the live footage, I knew that there was absolutely no way in hell that Ifill was offside. Indeed, I think that in fairness the linesman knew that wasn’t the case either. Unfortunately, the linesman seems to have decided that Chris Greenacre who had moved into an offside position after nodding the ball down, was still somehow interfering with play and thus should be judged offside.
Well I’m sorry, but that’s complete and utter bollocks. It had quickly turned into a straight footrace between Ifill and the Adelaide defender (I don’t know his name, apologies) and there was only ever one winner. Greenacre made no effort to get to the ball and so he was not interfering with play. As such he was not offside and the linesman should not have raised his flag, and Ifill’s wonderful finish should not have been ruled out.
It’s just absolutely ludicrous, and the only conclusion I can draw is that the officials in charge of this game do not actually fully understand the rules that they are paid to uphold. Everyone with eyes could see that Ifill was not offside, and even though the linesman wrongly flagged, the referee should have had the brainwave of over-ruling a clearly incorrect call from his official. Unfortunately, though the quality of the football in the A-League is improving greatly all the time, the refereeing is still distinctly amateur.
Even after that travesty though, the Phoenix looked like they’d secure the three points that they thoroughly deserved, and should have done when the ball again fell to Tim Brown inside the area but he couldn’t find the net, crashing his shot against the defender. A point was scant reward for a good performance from the Phoenix, and severe punishment for one defencive lapse from a corner which gave the Reds a very soft goal midway through the first half.
The performance of the referee constantly rankled though. Adelaide centre-half Mark Rudan should have been dismissed early in the game, after going into a headed challenge with his elbow very much pointed at Tim Brown’s head, but mysteriously was not even cautioned for the attack. Referee Michael Hester finally did book Rudan later in the half for a two-footed tackle from behind, another challenge that should have seen the defender dismissed. I really have no idea how he stayed on the pitch all game.
It wasn’t just the foul calls that the officials got wrong either, as Mark Rudan and his assistants consistently misjudged the awarding of throw-ins and corners – for both sides – though it did seem that Wellington were particularly hard done by, and it says little for the quality of refereeing in NZ that Hester is one of their two shortlisted referees up for a place at the World Cup in South Africa… worrying indeed.
Overall then, it was a tragically poor performance from the match officials and though I don’t want to use that as an excuse for the ‘Nix’s failure to secure three points, they pretty much did cost them the game. While Wellington, and Tim Brown in particular, could have had the game tied up before half time, there’s simply no getting around the fact that they had a perfectly good goal ruled out for absolutely no reason, and so the officials have certainly cost the Phoenix two points today.
Herbert then, will be rightly pissed off, but I think he does have a lot to be pleased about too – once the rage subsides. Paul Ifill was simply brilliant tonight – you can tell he’s really getting upto speed now and I don’t think it’s too exaggerated a claim to suggest that he’s one of the very best players in the league, and a stunning acquisition for the Kiwi club. Most importantly though, I was hugely impressed with the new look back four tonight.
With Manny Muscat away on international duty with Malta, Ben Sigmund sidled over to right back and Andrew Durante and Jon McKain resurrected a central defencive partnership that was frankly a complete disaster at the start of last season. However, tonight they looked very solid and assured despite the very physical threat of Llyod Owusu and Cristiano for Adelaide. Tony Lochead also had his best game in a while and was actually quite willing to get forward as he did in the Phoenix’s debut campaign to such effect.
Credit to that must go to Vince Lia and Tim Brown who played their holding midfield roles with aplomb, constantly breaking up the Adelaide attacks and showing that they weren’t afraid to give as good as they got when the match started to turn into quite a dirty affair. I have to say that Manny Muscat could, on this performance, have a hard time regaining his first team place – unless the injury that saw Sigmund limp off is more serious than it looked.
Leo Bertos was quieter than usual though, his switch into a more central role limiting his foraging runs down the wings that have proved so effective so far this season, but Herbert will have been pretty happy with the performance of Daniel on the left hand side. While he as ever didn’t offer the greatest work rate and little defensive contribution, he did show that of all of the Phoenix’s players, he is the most likely to conjure a really dangerous ball into the box, and a spark of imagination.
Overall then, I’m absolutely gutted that the Phoenix didn’t manage to finally defeat Adelaide – something they haven’t managed once over their two season history in the A-League, but the performance was at least a damn sight better than last week against Sydney. I just hope that Herbert has the balls to stick with this more attacking formation away from home too. While we’ll certainly face more potent attacking forces against other sides, I think the defensive performance was encouraging and that back six should be able to cope with most A-League sides.
Progression is always what we’re after, and that performance was well and truly better than last weeks and so hopefully next week we can give an even better performance and pick up an improved result too. Certainly the A-League as a whole is progressing too, in terms of both quality and excitement, it’s just a shame that the standard of refereeing seems to be going backwards and reflects badly on the league as a whole, making it look extremely amateur indeed.
Man of the Match: Paul Ifill, by a country mile.
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