Football: League-leading Wellington Phoenix overcome more pre-match turbulence to down Macarthur FC

  • 19/02/2024

Wellington Phoenix have extended their lead atop the A-League Men ladder with a 2-1 win over Macarthur FC on Sunday, overcoming another turbulent pre-match build-up.

A week after their calamitous kit mishap, the Phoenix had to contend with another delayed start - this time due to thunder and heavy rain at Sydney's Campbell Stadium, which pushed kick-off back 61 minutes.

Captain Alex Rufer then tweaked his quad during warm-ups, adding him to a list of injury absentees which also included key midfielders Bozhidar Kraev, Nico Pennington and defender Tim Payne.

But red-hot Kosta Barbaourouses stepped up to ensure the Phoenix left on a positive note, scoring both goals against their third-placed hosts to restore their five-point lead over second-placed Central Coast Mariners.

Barbarouses has now scored 10 goals this season and has drawn level with Melbourne Victory legend Archie Thompson as the fifth highest goal scorer in A-League men’s history.

Kosta Barbarouses celebrates a goal.
Kosta Barbarouses celebrates a goal. Photo credit: Photosport

The first was a result of a contentious penalty in the 30th minute, when Lukas Kelly-Heald went down in the box under minimal contact from Macarthur defender Tom Uskok. Referee Shaun Evans' decision was corroborated by the video assistant.

It came shortly after Macarthur had been denied a penalty in similar circumstances, rubbing salt into the locals' wounds.  

The second goal came in the 73rd minute, when ben Old directed David Ball's cross back across goal and Barbarouses scrambled it home at the back post.

Macarthur pulled a goal back five minutes later after a neat touch and finish from Bernardo.

Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano credited his team for not allowing their stilted pre-match effect their performance on the pitch.

"We're a team first," said Italiano. "We're bigger than all the individuals. It's what has got us through [since] day one. 

"We've had so many different things thrown at us this week and it was very easy for the boys to lose focus

"We lost Rufer five minutes before the game. I was so buoyed by the fact it was like 'okay, no problem'.

"The boys took it in their stride. Fin Conchie came into the team, and they just applied themselves for 90 minutes.

"The fact that we're clear at the top of the table and doing well is a testament to the players and their mentality."

Italiano's counterpart Mile Sterjovski refused to comment on the controversial penalty against his side, insisting they would make their feelings felt via "other channels."

"I think it was a penalty," said Italiano. "But I'm happy to be proven wrong if it wasn't." 

The Phoenix will now travel to Perth to prepare for their next match against the Glory on Saturday night.

The result wasn't as encouraging for the under-strength Phoenix women, who fell to their heaviest defeat of the season to Western United.

Missing nine frontline players due to international commitments and injuries, they were beaten 3-0.  

They now sit ninth on the A-League Women ladder and are four points outside the top six.

They'll have a fortnight to prepare for their next match against Melbourne Victory, with the A-League breaking for the FIFA international window.