New-boy Ljujic lif f
MATIJA Ljujic will quickly become a Wellington Phoenix fan favourite if he can keep up the sort of performance he produced on Saturday night.
The Serbian midfielder produced the goal of the season so far for the Phoenix, smashing a 25-metre thunderbolt in the 75th minute to earn his side a deserved 1-1 draw against the Western Sydney Wanderers at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
He then endeared himself to the Phoenix faithful further by hurdling the advertising hoardings and celebrating in front of the Yellow Fever support group.
For the second straight game, Ljujic was brought on at halftime for Michael McGlinchey, and this time his influence was even better than when he helped spark his side to a win over warm favourites Melbourne Victory on Wednesday, even if it didn’t get the same result.
The only reason he started on the bench was because of fitness, so you can be assured a spot in the starting XI will not be far away.
But because both him and returning striker Nathan Burns weren’t quite up to starting, the Phoenix reverted to their defensive back five in the first half, happy to give up possession (69 per cent to 31) to the Wanderers.
That didn’t mean they were the worse side though, as they had the better of the chances in the first 25min, via some sweeping counterattacks. The best fell to striker Roy Krishna, but he fired straight at Western Sydney goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic.
The sucker punch came in the 28th minute. The Wanderers swung in a hopeful free kick, which wasn’t cleared by the Phoenix, allowing Brendon Santalab to lash a volley into the bottom corner. Phoenix goalkeeper Lewis Italiano was in position to make a good save, but, as against the Victory, his left-handed effort wasn’t strong enough to keep the shot out.
Wanderers captain Mark Bridge should have made it two goals in two minutes, but sent his one-onone chance wide of Italiano’s goal.
Ljujic and Burns were both brought on by Phoenix coach Darjie Kalezic at halftime at the expense of midfielder McGlinchey and centreback Marco Rossi in order to play with a more attacking 4-2-3-1 formation and mindset.
That meant it was the Phoenix’s half to have the majority of the ball, while the Wanderers looked to soak up the pressure and hold onto their lead.
To help that, Wanderers coach Josep Gombau answered Kalezic’s halftime changes in the 52nd min- ute by bringing on midfielder Marcelo Carrusca for striker Santalab.
Kalezic was forced into his final change in just the 60th minute when Dylan Fox picked up an injury, replaced by Scott Galloway.
Not much of note had happened up until then. The Phoenix’s shift in formation led to a few half chances, but the Wanderers were reasonably comfortable.
Burns had a golden chance to equalise in the 71st minute after Ljujic won the ball high up the field and sent him through for a tough one-on-one chance, but he fired straight at Janjetovic.