Popovic slams ref for costly misses
Wellington 1 Western Sydney 0
Collision … Louis Fenton of Wellington Phoenix and Western Sydney's Mateo Poljak get in a tangle. Wellington climbed three places to fifth on the ladder. Photo: Getty Images
WELLINGTON: Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic could not understand how the Wanderers were denied two penalty shouts as they slumped to their fifth loss of the season, against Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium on Sunday.
Jeremy Brockie's 22nd-minute strike proved enough to get Wellington home, elevating them to fifth on the A-League ladder while the Wanderers slip to eighth with three wins from nine starts.
But Popovic said referee Matt Gillett missed two clear-cut penalties, one in the first half when a Jerome Polenz cross slammed into Phoenix captain Andrew Durante's arm and the other in the second half after substitute Joey Gibbs was brought down in a heavy tackle by Ben Sigmund. ''You don't want to bring up the officiating, but how we didn't get a penalty today is really beyond me,'' Popovic said. ''The games are tight, and those things change games, so we're disappointed on that front. They were penalties, but we've got to accept it and move on. But it's hard to accept, to be honest, it's hard to take when you see those kind of things.''
The Wanderers were missing playmakers Aaron Mooy, away on Socceroos duty in Hong Kong, and Youssouf Hersi, serving a two-match ban, and struggled to create chances.
They've scored just five goals in nine games this season, and Popovic said his team had to look at what they could control if they wanted to consistently create more scoring opportunities.
''Hopefully we can learn from this experience and be better for it … there wasn't very much in the game at all,'' he said. ''It was a very tight game, we still moved the ball quite well in certain passages of the game. We just need to find a way to get some end product to the good football we're playing.''
Popovic admitted the side missed Mooy and Hersi. ''Maybe we lacked a little bit of spark in the final third, maybe Aaron would have contributed a little bit more to that. It's hard to say. Football-wise, we're on the right track but results-wise we're still quite inconsistent at the moment.''
Brockie was a little reluctant to celebrate his sixth goal of the season, which proved the deciding strike. Brockie curled in a long-range ripper from 25 metres which caught the wind and left Wanderers' goalkeeper Ante Covic slipping, sliding and stranded.
Brockie admitted he had not been targeting the back of the net. ''I'll be the first to put up my hand and admit it was meant to be a cross to Paul Ifill far post, and the Wellington wind helped me out,'' he said. ''He'd made a good run, and I tried to put a bit of pace on the ball, and I think it was probably the pace with the wind that wrong-footed the keeper.
''I was a little bit embarrassed to celebrate, but it hit the back of the net, so I'm not going to complain.''
It was Brockie's sixth goal in five matches, and his first at home, reigniting an impressive run of form which resulted in 18 pre-season goals before a four-match scoring drought.
He said the Phoenix had been working hard in recent weeks on ball retention and had looked to push the ball wide as much as possible against the Wanderers.
''They've got some big units down the middle so we tried to go down the wings and it worked early on in the first half for us until we scored the goal, then we sat off a little bit.''
Popovic admitted Brockie's unintentional goal was hard to take.
''We conceded a bizarre goal, something you don't usually see, but that happens in football,'' he said. ''It was a close game, but one we felt we didn't deserve to lose. I'm disappointed we didn't create a little bit more, and didn't have the rub of the green. But that's the way it goes, and we'll keep working hard and keep improving.''