Football: Wellington Phoenix lose captain Alex Rufer to red card, but hold on for victory over Brisbane Roar

Wellington Phoenix have stretched their lead atop the A-League with a 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar, but will be without captain Alex Rufer for the top-of-the-table clash with Central Coast Mariners next Saturday.

Ahead 1-0 after only a few seconds, the home side were forced to defend for another 90 minutes-plus - the final few were without their skipper, who was banished for using his studs on counterpart Henry Hore, as he lay on the ground.

The red card means Rufer will miss the fixture against nearest rivals Central Coast, who fell six points behind, after losing 2-0 to Sydney over the weekend. 

Referee Tim Danaskos issues a red card to Phoenix captain Alex Rufer.
Referee Tim Danaskos issues a red card to Phoenix captain Alex Rufer. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Phoenix needed little more than a minute to find the net, when left wing Sam Sutton sprinted into the penalty box and slipped a dangerous ball into the goalmouth, where Bulgarian Bozhidar Kraev nudged it past Brisbane keeper Macklin Freke.

Phoenix keeper Alex Paulsen was called into action, when Roar forward Keegan Jelacic jinked past the defence and fired a rightfoot effort from in front of goal, batted away by the custodian.

Home fans held their collective breath, as the clock ticked into added time for the first half, when forward David Ball raised a boot and contacted the face of Roar captain Tom Aldred. Fortunately, video review confirmed nothing more than a yellow card. 

Soon after the second-half restart, Kraev almost had another, when half Youstin Salas laid on a leftfoot cross and the Bulgarian headed wide left from in front of goal. Moments later, Salas himself forced a save from Freke, after a promising build-up down the middle.

Brisbane enjoyed several minutes of attack around the Phoenix area, without quite threatening the goal.

Ben Old entered the game and made an immediate impact, providing a magnificent ball for striker Kosta Barbarouses, who weaved past the final defender to slot past Freke. Video replay showed he was marginally offside, as he chased the pass. 

At the other end, Jelicic fired the ball into a crowded goalmouth and Tom Aldred's deflection found the hands of Paulsen. Old had a chance, when he went to his left and then right, with Freke deflecting over the bar.

From the corner, Aldred almost deflected past his own keeper, but watched in relief, as the ball trickled just wide.

Rufer went under the microscope for a challenge on half Hore that saw him trample his opponent lying on the ground. Initially a yellow card, the penalty was upgraded to red after review and Rufer left his team to defend shorthanded for the final 10 minutes, plus added time.

From the free-kick just outside the area, Jay O'Shea's shot over the wall was punched over the crossbar by Paulsen. 

Even with a man down and a defensive mindset adopted, the Phoenix created a couple of breakout chances for Oskar van Hattum, before Salas sprinted the length of the field to draw a save from Freke.

Kraev sent a free-kick over the bar in the final seconds, as Wellington held on to victory.

The result assures the Phoenix will play the post-season - even if they lose their remaining four games, seventh-placed Melbourne City like 16 points behind and cannot catch them.

"There's four games left and we want to win all four games," said defender Scott Wootton. "The fact we're playing second place next adds a bit more spice to it, but we need to improve on that performance today.

"For the first 10 minutes, we were outstanding... maybe 15 minutes, we were really, really good. We attacked with pace and moved the ball from side to side.

"We really hurt Brisbane and could have been another goal up, but it wasn't to be. We need to analyse the game and improve on certain areas, particularly with the ball."

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Kraev) Brisbane Roar 0