'Hand of Payne' delivers Sydney chance at championship.
Despite the convincing manner of the victory, it is one that will attract attention for its controversial nature, with a deliberate handled goal by youngster Chris Payne proving decisive in the final outcome of the match.
For the Phoenix – and indeed, for New Zealand football - it marks the end of a truly amazing season in which the exploits of the country’s premier club outfit have lived up to those of their South Africa-bound national team.
Without a goal since Sydney’s 23rd of January clash with the Central Coast Mariners, Alex Brosque was conspicuously keen to get back into scoring form, troubling a normally well-marshalled Phoenix defence with his early running.
It took the World Cup hopefully only eight minutes to slip into the penalty area and get a shot away at in-form goalkeeper Liam Reddy, the pace and direction taken off the ball by a desperately sliding Andrew Durante with his shot-stopper subsequently able to save.
Despite the reprieve, Wellington struggled to organize their back-line and they were punished for a lack of shape and mobility by the unlikely figure of Chris Payne on 21 minutes – a precursor to the remainder of a match in which the Phoenix would crucially fail to truly shackle Sydney in an attacking capacity.
The 19 year-old was suddenly introduced as a substitute, with talisman striker and Sky Blue captain John Aloisi forced off with an early hamstring injury.
His impact was immediate and came courtesy of a wonderfully deft touch by Alex Brosque, who simply caressed Karol Kisel’s pass into the path of Payne; the striker much too easily found himself goal-side of full-back Tony Lochhead, shrugging off the seasoned defender before side-footing the ball home from a tight angle.
Well-deserved, the strike should have seen Sydney continue their territorial dominance, looking far more comfortable retaining the ball and dealing with the Phoenix’s relatively docile counter-attacking threat than with Melbourne’s last weekend.
Ricki Herbert’s men fought their way back into the match though and crafted an equalizer for themselves through a set piece on 27 minutes, courtesy of their captain Andrew Durante.
The veteran defender has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career in Wellington and netted what is incredibly his first ever A-League goal, arriving late at the far post to head home unmarked following Vince Lia’s flick on.
Socceroo Simon Colosimo – another who has had a stand-out season – was guilty of losing his man totally in the build-up to goal and as a cruel twist of fate would have it, Durante was punished for a similar display of ill-discipline on 31 minutes.
Bridge | Secured Sydney's place in the Grand Final
The controversial circumstances of the goal however will take precedence over the defensive lapse, Payne literally handing Sydney the lead for a second time in the match by extending his arm to divert home a tantalizing set piece from Korean full-back Byun.
Protestations from goalkeeper Reddy and the Phoenix captain were typically furious, with inevitable comparisons with the moral dilemma of Thierry Henry’s infamous recent moment in Paris against the Republic of Ireland no doubt set to follow.
Paul Ifill next replicated the style of the Arsenal man but in a rather more admirable fashion, spinning away from a tight-marking Stephan Keller brilliantly before curling an effort inches beyond Clint Bolton’s far post in one swift movement just before half time.
After the interval it was Brosque who remained Sydney’s most vibrant attacking figure and indeed it was he who almost doubled the Sky Blues’ advantage on the hour mark, drawing a sharp save from Reddy with an angle drive just inside the penalty area.
Two minutes later and the striker was able to beat the former Roar ‘keeper, this time keeping the ball along the ground and side-footing the ball across goal.
It was his approach to goal though that was most impressive, Sydney’s resident star using his raw pace to take the ball around a covering Durante before showing tremendous balance to slide it home, after latching on to a clever reverse pass by Mark Bridge.
The goal prompted Ricki Herbert to act, throwing on cult hero Eugene Dadi for New Zealand international Tim Brown and the Ivorian’s introduction should have set-up a second goal for the visitors, the former Perth man teeing up Chris Greenacre with a sublime touch in the penalty area only for the latter to send his snap-shot well over the crossbar.
That proved the defining moment of the match as Sydney proceeded to secure for themselves a place in the Grand Final, the Phoenix back-line collectively too slow to push up as a unit on half-way and play Sydney attackers Mark Bridge and Brosque offside.
A simple ball over the top of a flat-footed Wellington defence allowed the latter to waltz through on goal before squaring unselfishly for the unmarked Bridge when eventually faced by Reddy, the former Newcastle Jets man unconvincingly rolling the ball into the net to give Sydney a 4-1 lead.
Chris Payne then came agonizingly close to making it five for Lavicka’s outfit and completing his hat-trick, twisting to create space for himself in the penalty area before seeing his curled effort tipped just wide of the post by a typically agile Liam Reddy.
A late Eugene Dadi header proved nothing more than a consolation for the Phoenix, who ended what has been a landmark season for the young club with an anti-climatic defeat.
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