Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Durante gives officials a big serve

Phoenix defender Ben Sigmund eludes Adelaide's Jeronimo Neumann. Photo / Getty Images
Phoenix defender Ben Sigmund eludes Adelaide's Jeronimo Neumann. Photo / Getty Images

Adelaide United 3
Wellington Phoenix 1

It's just as well the A-League doesn't have instant fines for criticism of referees, otherwise the Phoenix owners would be reaching into their pockets today.

Ricki Herbert must have been fuming after an erratic display from the officials, and Andrew Durante didn't hold back with an uncharacteristic outburst at the end of the match.

After the game, when several crucial decisions went against the New Zealand side, Durante said Adelaide striker Jeronimo Neumann had "dived and was a cheat" and added that the referees were "shocking" and said that one linesman had "done nothing" throughout the match.

For long periods of this match, the Phoenix looked good for at least a point but everything unravelled in the final 35 minutes of the match.

They conceded a soft goal, had one of their own ruled out controversially, then watched as an Adelaide effort (which looked offside) was allowed. The final straw was a red card to Ben Sigmund, which was extremely harsh.

Circumstances definitely contrived against the visitors although on the balance of the 90 minutes Adelaide United were probably good for the three points.

It was an unsatisfying end to the Phoenix's brief unbeaten run, which left many more questions than answers.

The Wellington side are definitely a much sharper outfit than last year but a combination of poor finishing, slack defending, misfortune and some crucial refereeing calls saw the Phoenix yet again depart Adelaide with nothing but a sun tan.

The Phoenix, who have now won just twice in 10 matches in South Australia will take heart from the performance but no points.

Their long-documented road woes seemed to have eased slightly last season when they picked up 15 away points (the best in their history) and there was a lot to like about their display yesterday.

They created plenty of chances and had long spells in possession but couldn't convert that pressure into goals. They were eventually punished for some slack defending, aided by some spectacular hometown calls by the match officials.

Adelaide dominated the run of play in a bright opening to the match.

The visitors came into the match in the last 20 minutes before halftime, creating several promising openings. Louis Fenton was having an enthralling tussle with Adelaide star Cassio while Paul Ifill had more influence as half wore on.

On the back of some momentum, the Phoenix got their reward through a peach of a goal. Ifill found space on the left hand side, and chipped a delightful ball through to Stein Huysegems, who had beaten the offside trap.

The former Belgian international cushioned the pass adeptly on his left foot before advancing on the Adelaide.

He waited, paused, waited some more - and just as it looked like a defender would get in a block - swept a perfect finish past the stranded goalkeeper.

It is early days but Huysegems has enjoyed a great start to his career. He is already on his way to being the most popular left-footed striker in this country since 1980s legend Steve Wooddin.

The Phoenix gained belief with the goal and Ifill set up Jeremy Brockie minutes later, with the All Whites smashing a shot straight across the face of goal, inches wide of the far post.

The second half was a more even affair, with the visitors matching Adelaide stride for stride.

Just as the Phoenix were looking comfortable, the team in red conjured up an equaliser. After the Phoenix had twice failed to clear danger, a rebound fell to the splendidly named Jeronimo Neumann, just inside the penalty area.

It wasn't the crispest shot but it was well placed and crept past Mark Paston at his near post. The keeper, perhaps deceived by the previous rebounds, was slow to get down to the shot.

Brockie had the ball in the net three minutes later, a header from a pinpoint Lochead cross, but the striker was adjudged marginally offside. The decision was probably correct, though it was a matter of centimetres.

If the first Adelaide goal was a tad fortunate, the second was dreadfully soft. Adelaide's fullback was allowed to run 50 metres before slipping a pass and the Brazilian slotted home after receiving the return ball.

It looked offside - but doesn't excuse Leo Bertos, who stood beside Cassio with his arm raised (in the best traditions of Arsenal stopper Tony Adams) instead of trying to get a block or tackle in.

Before that the converted fullback had looked good, making some good covering tackles and holding his position well but that episode demonstrated his defensive naivety.

The questionable goal - which came against the run of play - seemed to take the wind out of the Phoenix sails.

Adelaide created two more gilt-edged chances, before losing Sigmund to a awful refereeing decision. The defender momentarily brushed Neumann's arm but had long released before the striker dived like he had been hit by a sniper's bullet - or a wayward jandal.

If his goal had been an example of Latin magic, this was South American gamesmanship at its worst and enough for the referee to produce a red card.

Adelaide United 3 (J. Neumann 55, 84, Cassio 67) Wellington Phoenix 1 (S. Huysegems 42) Halftime: 1-0.

- Herald on Sunday

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