Headbutt controversy as Wellington Phoenix downed by lowly Central Coast Mariners
It's hard to imagine a worse way for the Wellington Phoenix to limp into 2016.
As if Thursday night's 3-1 loss to the hapless Central Coast Mariners wasn't bad enough, they also lost key goal-getter Roy Krishna to an ankle injury in the first half, and will lose Alex Rodriguez and Roly Bonevacia through suspension (for fifth yellow cards) for the January 10 home game against Brisbane in Wellington.
But the biggest talking point will be a blatant, vicious headbutt from the Mariners' Roy O'Donovan, who lined up Phoenix defender Manny Muscat in the 59th minute and escaped punishment because referee Kris Griffiths-Jones missed it.
The match meandered at 2-0 to the Mariners till it all kicked off in the 59th minute, when O'Donovan should have been sent off for the disgraceful headbutt of Muscat.
O,Donovan is an absolute disgrace what a joke #CCMvWEL— Paul Ifill (@PaulIfill) December 31, 2015
O'Donovan shamelessly celebrating as he comes off field after being replaced. Have a feeling he won't be come next week.— Ray Gatt (@Gatty54) December 31, 2015
Do that on the street you'd get arrested.— Danny Vukovic (@vuka20) December 31, 2015
The two players were involved in a scrap for the ball - and Muscat may not have been squeaky clean himself in the scuffle as replays showed he may have made contact with his elbow - but after play had moved on and the pair were running back, O'Donovan used decent force to blatantly headbutt the Phoenix player.
Phoenix captain Andrew Durante and Muscat were furious, yet Griffiths-Jones merely produced a yellow card for O'Donovan for his part in the scuffle, and to rub salt into the wounds Durante got one, too.
All O'Donovan got for his act of thuggery was a badly cut eye and an ovation from the home crowd when he came off toward the end of the match.
In short, it was more like Halloween than New Year's Eve, given the nightmares this one will cause the Phoenix.
Desperate to right the ship having won just once in their previous six matches coming into the match in Gosford, the Phoenix were done over by a team which had one win from 12 matches, hadn't won in their past 11 matches, and had won just five times from 27 outings in 2015.
Coach Ernie Merrick will be glad to see the new year in, and return home, after a run of away matches that have yielded little in the way of points.
Having been flying high early in the season, the Phoenix, who now have four wins, three draws and six losses from 13 matches, could drop out of the top six by the weekend's end, if Adelaide and/or Newcastle collect three points from their respective matches.
Wellington barely fired a shot, but were desperately unlucky to go 1-0 down in the 27th minute when Griffiths-Jones erred in awarding the hosts a penalty. He adjudged Muscat to have brought down Josh Rose in the box, though Rose simply kicked Muscat's ankle lunging for the ball.
Fabio Ferreira buried the spot kick but there was no-one to blame but themselves when the Mariners doubled the lead three minutes later. Durante let O'Donovan nick the ball off him, the Mariners striker squaring the ball for a flying Mitchell Austin at the far post.
A minute later Krishna left the game with a suspected rolled ankle, and it was all turning pear-shaped.
Soon after the headbutt incident, the Phoenix got themselves back in the game soon after when Blake Powell tapped in a Matt Ridenton cross, only for Durante to gift a goal to Michael Neill three minutes later, the skipper making a dodgy pass which Neill pounced on before beating Glen Moss with the shot.
The Mariners hadn't won since round one, including losing a club record six in a row, not to mention their off-field issues around overdue player payments and now reports five key players are on the outer.
The hosts got two big rubs of the green from Griffiths-Jones, with the penalty and somehow managing to keep 11 players on the park for 90 minutes, but they were still good value for the three points and that will worry Merrick as the Phoenix disperse for a few days off before regrouping on January 5.
Central Coast Mariners 3 (Fabio Ferreira 28m pen, Mitch Austin 30m, Michael Neill 70m) Wellington Phoenix 1 (Blake Powell 67m) at Central Coast Stadium. Crowd: 10,073. Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones