Melbourne City have ended the Wellington Phoenix’s run in this year’s Australia Cup.
The reigning A-League premiers have beaten the Phoenix 3-0 in their round of 16 match at Jack Edwards Reserve in Melbourne, avenging their Cup defeats to Wellington in the past two seasons.
Socceroos striker Jamie Maclaren scored twice in as many minutes in the second half after City had led 1-0 at halftime courtesy of a deflected goal.
Italiano: ‘I was hoping for a more polished performance’
Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano cut a frustrated figure after the match.
“Genuinely disappointed the fact that we lost and disappointed we conceded three goals,” Italiano said. “It wasn’t through a lack of trying. Execution let us down quite a lot.
“We worked all week to find their vulnerabilities and I thought we did it well at times during the match, it was just a lack of execution.
“Towards the end there was a lot of sloppiness. It wasn’t really what I was hoping for. I was hoping for a more polished performance.
“But in saying that it was our first good hit-out against a quality opponent … and there’s enough there we can work off.”
The major positive for Italiano is that the game was in the balance until the 70th minute.
“I don’t think they got in behind us that whole first half.
“There were moments in the first half … and if they were scored it probably would have been a different game.
“So if we can match it for 70 minutes with one of the best teams in the league maybe that is a good sign, but at the same time we really need to close that gap if we want to do anything special this year.”
Two changes to the starting line-up
Giancarlo Italiano made two changes to the XI which started the round of 32 Cup tie against Peninsula Power, with experienced defender Scott Wootton and young forward Josh Rudland replacing Mohamed Al-Taay (injured) and Oskar van Hattum (international duty).
Veteran forward David Ball returned on the bench along with Rudland’s academy teammates Isaac Hughes, Luke Supyk and Jackson Manuel.
City had the better of the early running, without testing Alex Paulsen, who showed great composure while playing out from the back.
Rudland, Nicholas Pennington and Tim Payne all had shots blocked from around the edge of the box in the first 25 minutes, and Oskar Zawada was unable to capitalise when Kosta Barbarouses slipped him into the visitors’ box.
The Phoenix were unfortunate to go behind in the 37th minute when Steven Ugarkovic’s audacious jumping volley from the edge of the area took a massive deflection of City teammates Tolgay Arslan and sailed over a wrongfooted Paulsen.
Bozhidar Kraev had an opportunity to draw the Nix level little over 60 seconds later when he was slipped through on goal, but he was unable to beat City ‘keeper Jamie Young at his near post and Wellington trailed 1-0 at halftime.
The hosts dominated the second half, but struggled to find a way into the Phoenix box for the next 25 minutes.
City were mostly limited to shots from the edge of the area, with Arslan and fellow new signing Hamza Sakhi, and Socceroos forward Mathew Leckie all testing Paulsen in the Nix goal.
Sakhi also had a shot from inside the box that was spectacularly saved by Paulsen, who tipped the powerful effort over his bar.
Arslan should have doubled the hosts’ lead in the 71st minute when Wellington gave away possession on the edge of their area, but he skied his shot well off target.
Maclaren made no mistake a few minutes later, stroking home a right-wing cross from seven yards out.
And he made it 3-nil soon after, smashing a left-footed shot past Paulsen from an acute angle.
Giancarlo Italiano handed first team debuts to reserves players Fergus Gillion, Luke Supyk and Isaac Hughes in the closing stages and the Phoenix finished brightly.
They came closest to scoring in time added on when Supyk and Zawada were denied by desperate goal-line clearances.
“I’m really happy that those boys got a bit of a flavour of what first team football is like,” Italiano said.
“Luke had a really good opportunity to score at the end…and I thought he did really well. He ran, he worked the space really well and executed really well.
“Fergus made an impact. He shut down the space really well. We started getting a little bit more controlled possession when he came on … and Hughesy didn’t look out of place, which is good for him.”
Hughes, Alex Paulsen, Finn Surman and Lukas Kelly-Heald will now link up with the New Zealand under-23 team in Auckland ahead of their second OFC Olympic qualifying match against Fiji on Wednesday.
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Game played on Sunday August 27, 2023
Round of 16
Melbourne City 3 (Steven Ugarkovic 37′, Jamie Maclaren 76′, 78′)
Wellington Phoenix 0
40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON (37. Isaac HUGHES 89th), 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (46. Luke SUPYK 85th), 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (42. Fergus GILLION 85th), 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 34. Josh RUDLAND (10. David BALL 55th).
Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 41. Kaelin NGUYEN, 52. Jackson MANUEL.
1. Jamie YOUNG (gk), 4. Nuno REIS, 6. Steven UGARKOVIC, 7, Mathew LECKIE (35. Zane SCHREIBER 86th), 8. Hamza SAKHI (17. Terry ANTONIS 66th), 9. Jamie MACLAREN (c), 10. Tolgay ARSLAN (15. Andrew NABBOUT 77th), 16. Aziz BEHICH (18. Jordon HALL 86th), 22. Curtis GOOD, 25. Callum TALBOT (26. Samuel SOUPRAYEN 46th), 44. Marin JAKOLIS.
Unused substitutes: 40. James NIEUWENHUIZEN (gk), 37. Max CAPUTO.
15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow 22nd
14. Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 63rd