It was an enthralling and, at times, frustrating match, deadlocked at 0-0 until the Wanderers’ new marquee man Oriol Riera headed home a Roly Bonevacia corner in the 122nd minute, sending the thousands of Wanderers fans into a frenzy.
The Wanderers hosted Wellington Phoenix away at Campbelltown on Tuesday night in their round of 32 FFA Cup knock-out match.
The opening 10 or so minutes of the match set the scene for a real arm wrestle. It was the Wanderers that first threatened to really turn the tables. For the most part of the next half hour, the Wanderers had the Nix pressed firmly into their half. Maintaining a good line and applying a lot of pressure, the Wanderers forced the Nix to continuously either turn the ball over or play a low percentage long ball. Kearyn Baccus was instrumental in this defensive display. Not only did he apply pressure but was able to steal the ball off any Nix player with seeming ease. Unlike the Wanderers of last season, they looked energetic and threatening in attack. Moving away from the side-to-side and backwards style and being much more direct and willing to whip a ball into box and see what happens.
Former Nix player, Roly Bonevacia looked the goods against his former club. He was a constant threat both with his passing and link up play and when taking on the defence himself. He looked quick and determined and made a good case as a possible replacement creative mid for Nico.
Riera was also impressive. He was a constant danger and displayed some unexpected but top quality long ranged passing, a rare quality in a number 9. Lustica was also dangerous and heavily involved, making a number of crosses and having a few half-chances himself.
Unfortunately, the Wanderers still lacked that final ball and killer blow. Failing to turn the screws and capitalise on their dominance, the Wanderers found themselves going in 0-0 at the break, after a few minor scares at the other end with Phoenix coming close, against the run of play.
Jumpei, who had a disappointing match and looked out of place in the new squad, was replaced at the half time break by youngster Abraham Majok. Majok was a welcome change. He was eager and used his blinding pace to cause a constant threat to a tiring Wellington side.
Overall, the second half was a much more balanced affair. Played mostly as a battle of midfields and with half-chances for both teams going begging or being saved. Despite an action packed final few minutes, neither team managed to break the deadlock and we headed to extra time.
The Wanderers attacked the RBB end of the ground in the first half of extra time. The RBB by this time either running out of chants or going mad with frustration in the cold started the old “Shinji Ono, Ono” chant. Again it was the Wanderers looking more likely with the Nix hoping to steal a goal on the counter. The fitness of Tony Popovic’s squad was on display. Looking fresh and unbothered by the additional time while the Nix looked tired with a number of players needing help with cramps.
As it came close to the end of added time, Brendan Hamill went down with an apparent ankle injury and it seemed the Wanderers would have to hold out for penalties with 10 men. However, Hamill managed to get back on the pitch, although more as a passenger than a recovered player. Just as we were all weighing up whether we had the cattle to win a penalty shoot-out, Majok stole the ball and made a great run before being cut down in a terrible tackle. The resulting free kick allowed the Wanderers to build pressure and finally score the winning goal with just about the final play of the game.
The result means the Wanderers progress to the round of 16 of the FFA Cup, while the Nix join Perth as the first A-League clubs eliminated from the competition.
The performance gives hope that the new signings have changed our play style for the better. If we continue to play direct, take chances and also improve on our final balls and finishing, we will be a real title contender this season.
Final Result: Wanderers 1 (Riera 122′) – Nix 0
RBF’s MVP: Roly Bonevancia
Other stand-outs: Lustica, Baccus, Riera and Majok