It is the continuation of a fledgling Hyundai A-League rivalry when Melbourne City FC face last season’s Elimination Final adversaries Wellington Phoenix on Australia Day eve. We take an in-depth look at Ernie Merrick’s side in our latest Scout Report.
Young Nix showing positivity in absence of injured stars
After a positive start to the campaign, injury has led Head Coach Ernie Merrick to call upon his young stars.
The loss of several first-team starters to injury, including experienced players Ben Sigmund, Louis Fenton, Jeffery Sarpong and top-scorer Roy Krishna,Merrick has placed his faith in an inexperienced starting line-up.
Youngsters Justin Gulley and Troy Danaskos have deputized admirably for injured defenders Sigmund and Fenton, while the Phoenix have unearthed a gem in 21-year-old centre-back Dylan Fox, who has impressed alongside ever-present captain Andrew Durante.
The return of experienced defender Manny Muscat will provide some respite in the defensive half, as the Phoenix arrive in Melbourne looking to register a first win in four matches against John van’t Schip’s side.
Krishna absence cause for concern for Wellington
Despite losing a host of key defenders to injury and suspension, the long-term absence of key striker Roy Krishna is perhaps the most telling for a Wellington side harbouring ambitions for a top-six finish.
Following the departure of Nathan Burns, the speedy Fijian forward has become the fulcrum of the Phoenix attack, contributing six goals and three assists before succumbing to an ankle injury.
Merrick’s side have suffered when it has failed to finish in the final third in recent weeks, spurning a 67 per cent possession rate to fall 3-1 to Newcastle Jets last week – despite having twice as many shots as their opponents.
With Krishna and Dutch forward Jeffery Sarpong on the sidelines, Wellington will rely on the services creative midfielder Roly Bonevacia to turn around its fortunes in front of goal, linking up with the likes of Michael McGlinchey, Blake Powell and Kwabena Appiah in attack.
Wellington unearth a defensive gem in Fox.
One player who has stepped up to the plate in the absence of his injured comrades is young defender Dylan Fox.
The 21-year-old was thrust into the line of duty as a replacement for the injured Ben Sigmund against Brisbane Roar in Round 14, displaying maturity beyond his tender years with a Man of the Match display during Wellington’s gritty 0-0 draw against the league leaders.
Described as an “old fashioned British centre back” by Head Coach Ernie Merrick, the young Australian was instrumental in quelling the threat of experienced Roar striker Henrique, in what was one of the most promising senior debuts in recent times.
Now faced with the daunting task of nullifying in-form City duo Bruno Fornaroli and Harry Novillo, Fox has another opportunity to establish himself as a viable replacement for the retiring Sigmund, with a performance against the league’s most formidable attack.
Last Time We Met
Melbourne City FC 5-1 Wellington Phoenix – Westfield FFA Cup 2015 Round of 16
A dazzling first-half display saw John van’t Schip’s men race into an early 3-0 lead, with penalties to Aaron Mooy and debutant Bruno Fornaroli scored either side of a trademark goal from Harry Novillo.
Wellington were given a sniff of hope when Roy Krishna lashed home another penalty – the third of four awarded by referee Lucien Lavedure for the evening – before Robert Koren restored City’s three goal advantage five minutes before the interval.
Wade Dekker put the icing on the cake five minutes after the restart, netting his first competitive goal for the Club as City booked its passage into the Quarter Finals of the Westfield FFA Cup.
Stats Pack: City vs Phoenix
- Melbourne City FC has won two and drawn three of its last six league matches against Wellington Phoenix (including the 2-0 Elimination Final win last season) and is undefeated in its last three league matches against the Wellington side.
- City have kept a clean sheet in each of their last three league matches against Wellington Phoenix, but have only scored twice in that period.
- Wellington Phoenix have travelled to Melbourne and beaten City only once from seven attempts (D4 L2).
- City are undefeated in its last four matches at AAMI Park (W3 D1) and have scored an impressive 12 goals in that period, including a 5-1 demolition of Perth Glory.
- John van’t Schip’s side has scored 37 goals from the opening 15 matches this season – the highest scoring first 15 games in an Australian season for almost two decades.
- The Phoenix have only won once away from home this season (Round 2). Since then, Ernie Merrick’s side have lost six and drawn two outside of New Zealand.
- City have scored six goals from outside the box this season, the most of any team and three times as many as Wellington have scored.
- City have made 285 tackles this season, the most of any team, while Wellington have made the fewest of any side in the Hyundai A-League (232)