Can Western United get it done on a rainy night in Wellington?
They welcome Steven Lustica into their team, who’s back from Uzbekistan. They haven’t been as potent since letting go of Ersan Gulum, Scott Macdonald, and Connor Chapman earlier in the year. The Nix, on the other hand, have been building from strength to strength, most recently triumphing 1-0 against Melbourne City.
The Nix are also wearing a purple and green kit for one night only, promoting Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. As someone who’s suffered both depression and anxiety, I couldn’t be more supportive. Plus, the kit looks sick (come at me). I’m excited for this game because the Nix play consistent football and WU are consistently surprising. Will they show up or nah?
Filip Kurto has shown up, that’s for sure, the WU keeper bombarded by everyone from Ulises Davila in the 50th second, whose shot ricochets off the left post, to Gary Hooper in the 6th minute, Rene Piscopo in the 13th, then Cacace, Piscopo, Devlin, Hooper again, Piscopo again… you get the idea. On the sidelines is WU coach Mark Rudan, in a black jacket with a high stand collar, angry, disappointed, looking like he’s here for a funeral… Bad omen. Shoulda worn his party shirt to match his team’s.
It’s raining, now, which WU are surely used to. The teams are equally agile but the end to end play has clustered around Kurto.
The Nix are relentless and it carries them to the 28th minute when Piscopo, bearing down upon the box, threads a pass to Davila who lunges to collect it and loop it to Cacace on the left who bounces it forward and into the back of the net.
It’s wild how Kurto can save worldies but come undone from just one tricky set up.
The Nix are pushing high, consistently, frustrating WU with chips and passes that pinball up the field. WU steps up their intensity but this inspires the Nix to do the same, so the imbalance remains. WU’s defenders aren’t stopping the ball; their attackers aren’t keeping it.
WU’s Kone hurts his arm and he gets replaced by Max Burgess who’s immediately busy and brings more energy, pushing forward more, taking more runs. Someone has to. They’re a bit more lively in the second half. They just react a bit more slowly than their opposition, and their limbs seem to get caught up in more fouls.
Berisha’s not getting any ball. Diamanti’s not getting much ball. A defensive error in the 89th minute leads to the Nix’s second goal, with Marinovic clearing the ball from the Nix goal with a massive kick. A WU defender jumps high to head it but the ball sails higher, beats the back line, and David Ball is ready to scoop it up and send it directly into the back of the net.
There’s no coming back from that.
By Kelly Simpson