Football: Wellington Phoenix sign off Eden Park love affair with comeback A-League victory over Sydney FC

Wellington Phoenix have retained their unbeaten A-League record at Auckland's Eden Park, rallying from behind to defeat Sydney FC 2-1 in their final home game at the venue.

The victory - the club's seventh from 12 fixtures there, along with five draws - sees the team from the capital back atop the competition standings, with near rivals Central Coast Mariners idle this weekend.

Success seemd a distant hope through most of the first half, when the Phoenix struggled to venture outside their own half. They also had to rely on their share of favour from video review, which disallowed a second Sydney goal and overturned a tight offside call on one of theirs. 

Kosta Barbarouses celebrates his goal against Sydney.
Kosta Barbarouses celebrates his goal against Sydney. Photo credit: Photosport

Under former Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay, Sydney entered the contest as the competition's hottest team, unbeaten in their last nine games, including a victory over the tabletopping Mariners.

Referee Alireza Faghani had not blown the whistle once in the opening five minutes, when the Phoenix defence could not clear the ball, midfielder Nicholas Pennington was dispossessed on the edge of penalty area and Sydney forward Robert Mak slotted an angled shot past keeper Alex Paulsen.  

Wellington had a royal chance to equalise moments later, when Kosta Barbarouses ran onto a through ball with only the keeper to beat, but could not lob over the advancing Andrew Redmayne.

Pennington had a chance to atone for his defensive lapse, when Redmayne parried a cross in his direction, but his rightfoot shot deflected out for a corner.

The Phoenix suffered another setback, when All Whites defender Tim Payne limped off with a hamstring niggle, replaced by Costa Rican recruit Youstin Salas.

Sydney remained camped in Phoenix territory for much of the first half. 

Jordan Courtney-Perkins volleyed from outside the box and Paulsen tipped his shot over the bar, From the Sydney corner, Brazilian Gabriel Lacerda saw his close-range effort deflect off the right post and harmlessly across goal.

The Phoenix were fortunate not to go two goals down on the half hour. From another indirect corner, midfielder Luke Brattan floated a ball into the goalmouth, where Courtney-Perkins somehow dragged an off-balance shot past Paulsen.

Video review let the Phoenix off the hook, detecting a slight handball by the scorer and disallowing the goal.

On a rare raid into the Sydney half, Sam Sutton laid on a great ball into the penalty area for Ben Old, whose angled shot was deflected into the side netting. 

From a free-kick, defender Finn Surman nodded his header into the ground and Redmayne was forced into an awkward save.

As the first half entered extra time, Bulgarian striker Bozhidar Kraev sent a rightfoot effort wide of goal, while Barbarouses drew a diving save from Redmayne.

Wellington had the first chance of the second half, when Pennington broke down the right and crossed to the far post, but Old's leftfoot ballooned high over the crossbar.

They thought they had the equaliser, when Sydney struggled to defend a long ball into their box and a pass across goal from Barbarouses to Kraev was deflected past Redmayne by fast-retreating Hayden Matthews. 

Again, the Phoenix benefited from video review, which overruled suspicions of offside in the build-up and the goal stood.

Phoenix fans celebrate their team's win at Eden Park.
Phoenix fans celebrate their team's win at Eden Park. Photo credit: Photosport

Sydney almost had their second, when a free-kick into penalty area required three reflex saves from Paulsen to stay out of the net.

Wellington went ahead, when Salas broke down the right and found Barbarouses, who cut back to improve his angle and leftfooted past Redmayne.

The striker almost added to his account seconds later, but could not control the ball inside the penalty area. 

Young defender Issac Hughes was also helped off the field, joining Payne in the casualty ward with a similar-looking hamstring injury.

In the dying seconds, Sydney replacement Fabio Gomes nodded hopefully towards goal, but Paulsen had it covered.

"I thought it was a very intense battle," reflected Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano. "Both teams came with the mentality to win, but I don't think we were at our best in the first 20-25 minutes - we were actually pretty subpar.

"Once we started moving the ball to break their press, we found a couple of ball in behind and we probably could have scored three or four in the end.

"I'm delighted we kept the record here, there was a crowd, there was a nice buzz and I think this guarantees semi-final football now."

Next time the Phoenix play at Eden Park, they will be the 'away' team against new expansion club Auckland FC. Amid a battle for hearts and minds of local football enthusiasts, the Wellingtonians gave a crowd of 18,000 plenty of reasons to stay loyal.

The competition enters a bye week during the international window, but will resume with the Phoenix hosting Brisbane Roar on March 31, Easter Sunday.

Wellington Phoenix 2 (own goal, Barbarouses) Sydney FC 1 (Mak)