New-boy Lju­jic lif f

Sunday News - - FOOTBALL - LIAM HYSLOP

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.

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