Football: Resilient Wellington Phoenix survive red cards, penalties for incredible A-League victory over Sydney FC

Wellington Phoenix have somehow emerged from a perfect storm of adversity with a miraculous 1-0 A-League victory over Sydney FC.

Describing the result as hardfought would be a gross understatement, with the Phoenix undoubtedly feeling like they were up against a couple of extra opponents throughout the 90 minutes, plus eight added on - one with a whistle and a pocketful of coloured cards.

Down to nine men and defending for their lives, they also had to survive not one, but two penalty decisions for handball in the goalmouth during extra time and were understandably defiant when neither found the back of the net.

Nicholas Pennington and Max Burgess clash during the Phoenix-Sydney game
Nicholas Pennington and Max Burgess clash during the Phoenix-Sydney game. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I think the boys showed fantastic character to get themselves through that," said coach Ufuk Talay. "We walk away with the three points, so the boys will be quite pleased with that.

"They defended the box very well. I don't think Sydney had a real clear chance to score a goal in the second-half.

"There were probably half-chances where balls have dropped or second phases, but I don't think there was anything we gave them in the second-half."

Polish striker Oskar Zawada put Wellington ahead after just 10 minutes, chasing a dangerous ball from Clayton Lewis into the penalty area and evading Sydney keeper Andrew Redmayne to slot the chance home.

But the drama really began midway through the second half, when Bulgarian Bozhidar Kraev incurred a second yellow card for the match, which became an automatic red.

The Phoenix lost another player, when midfielder Nicholas Pennington clashed with counterpart Max Burgess and was shown the sideline.

As added time began, they had parked the bus, desperately trying to repel wave after wave of Sydney attack on their goal.

Referee Shaun Evans showed no hesitation in awarding a penalty for handball, after an attempted shot deflected off defender Tim Payne, but Phoenix captain and keeper Oli Sail guessed correctly to deny the strike from Adam Le Fondre.

Within seconds, Evans was invited to review another apparent handball by David Ball in the scramble to clear and again pointed to the spot. As Talay fumed and Sail shrugged in disbelief, Le Fondre sprayed his second effort wide right, and Wellington celebrated their great escape.

By the time he addressed media afterwards, Talay had calmed down and presented a diplomatic response to the mayhem he had just witnessed.

"Decisions are made and we deal with the decisions at the time," he said.

"I think I need to see it again, because it was on the other side of the field," Talay reflected on Kraev's red card. "Watching it live I thought it was soft - I don’t think there was intent to kick the player.

"The second one, I can’t really comment, because I don’t know what they actually did to each other at that time, when there was all players around it. Obviously, [video officials] have had a look at it and they’ve come to a conclusion that what Nicho did was a red card."

Talay speculated that the first penalty offence had actually struck Payne in the back, but the second was perhaps a little more clearcut.

Ironically, the result represents Wellington's first clean sheet in their third win of the 2022/23 A-League campaign. 

They have a chance to build on that momentum, when they host Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium next Saturday.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Zawada) Sydney FC 0