The Wellington Phoenix men have suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time this season.
Macarthur FC have beaten the Phoenix 2-1 in a wild Isuzu UTE A-League match at Campbelltown Stadium in which three penalties were saved.
The Nix scored first for the seventh straight match, with Bulgarian playmaker Bozhidar Kraev finding the back of the net just four minutes into the contest.
Former Wellington captain Ulises Dávila drew Macarthur level shortly after the half hour mark before former Phoenix goalkeeper Filip Kurto saved penalties from inform striker Oskar Zawada and Brazilian forward Yan Sasse to ensure it was 1-1 at halftime.
Moudi Najjar put the hosts in front early in the second-half and they held on, despite Nix goalkeeper Oli Sail denying Dávila from the spot.
The Phoenix remain in the top six, but only just. They are sixth, ahead of Newcastle Jets and Macarthur FC on goal differential.
Coach Talay: ‘If you can’t score those, it’s hard to win …’
Head coach Ufuk Talay is disappointed his side didn’t go on to claim the three points after scoring first.
“It’s one of those ones where we’ve gone in the lead again and we’ve dropped points,” Talay told media post-game. “I think that’s 20 points we’ve dropped so far this season.
“I thought we started the game well, we got our goal and we kept playing well.
“Obviously we have a pen and another pen and if you can’t score those it’s hard to win games.”
Talay repeated his belief that his players are struggling with the increased pressure on the team this season, now they are back at home for the first time in three years.
“Do we play some decent football at times? Yea I believe so. Are we handling the expectation? I don’t believe so.
“If you want to be a top team there’s the pressures of playing a certain way…and winning games and I think that’s something that with our squad what’s let us down is handling that expectation.
“I think that’s something we haven’t handled well this season.”
Two changes to starting line-up
Ufuk Talay made two changes to the XI which started last week’s 3-1 defeat to Melbourne Victory. All Whites defender Tim Payne returned from suspension to replace Finn Surman at centre back, while Sasse came into the side for the injured Kosta Barbarouses. New signing Nikko Boxall was named on the bench following the defender’s move from Auckland City FC at the start of the week.
Kraev was celebrating his sixth goal of the season little over 200 seconds into the match. The Bulgarian international was teed up by Zawada and blasted a first-time volley past Kurto.
Main photo: Kraev is congratulated by Sasse after the Phoenix take the lead.
Macarthur’s ‘keeper made a few sharp saves to prevent the Kraev and Zawada from making it two or three nil in the opening half an hour.
The Phoenix let the Bulls back into the game in the 33rd minute. Dávila squeezed a shot through Sail’s legs after the Nix gave away possession on the edge of their box.
Wellington had a golden opportunity to restore their lead a handful of minutes later when David Ball was fouled in the box.
Zawada stepped up to the spot, looking to set a new club record by scoring in a sixth straight A-League match. He was denied by his fellow countryman with Kurto saving the penalty down low to his left.
The Phoenix had another gilt-edged chance shortly after when the video assistant referee intervened to ensure they were awarded another spot kick for a foul on Kraev.
This time Sasse took the penalty, but he too was foiled by Macarthur’s goalkeeper, with Kurto this time at full stretch to his right to deny the Brazilian.
After dominating the first half an hour and then being awarded two penalties the Nix somehow found themselves level with Macarthur FC at halftime.
The hosts appeared to be lifted by Filip Kurto’s heroics and started the second-half the better of the two sides.
They again capitalised on a mistake from Wellington to take the lead in the 49th minute. The Phoenix did well to block Jed Drew’s shot after turning over possession deep in their own half, but Najjar won the race to the loose ball and beat Sail from six yards out.
Macarthur had an opportunity to double their advantage half a dozen minutes later when Tim Payne was deemed to have fouled halftime substitute Al Hassan Toure inside the box.
Sail made amends for his earlier mistake, saving Dávila’s penalty down low to his right.
Bozhidar Kraev had a good chance to draw the Nix level shortly after the hour mark. Some great interplay between substitute Ben Old and Ball created the opening for Kraev but he was unable to connect with his left-footed volley.
Old skied a shot over the bar shortly after as he stretched to get to a pass from Steven Ugarkovic.
Oli Sail kept Wellington in the match, producing a great fingertip save in the 75th minute to prevent Ali Auglah from making a near-immediate impact off the bench.
There was more drama in time added on. Moudi Najjar thought he had scored his second in the second minute of second-half stoppage time, only for it to be scratched off as the VAR found Auglah had fouled Nicholas Pennington to win possession.
The Phoenix thought they may be awarded a third penalty three minutes later when Oskar van Hattum went to ground in the Macarthur box. Referee Alireza Faghani waved away van Hattum’s penalty claims and to rub salt into the wound booked the young Nix substitute for simulation.
The Wellington Phoenix have to quickly move on from the defeat as they are back in action against Western United in Launceston on Friday night.
The Phoenix will train in Sydney for the next few days before travelling to Tasmania on Thursday.
Game played on Sunday February 12, 2023
Macarthur 2 (Ulises Dávila 32′, Moudi Najjar 49′)
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Bozhidar Kraev 4′)
12. Filip KURTO (gk), 6. Tomislav USKOK, 8. Jake HOLLMAN, 10. Ulises DAVILA (c), 11. Kearyn BACCUS (7. Daniel DESILVA 58th), 13. Ivan VUJICA, 14. Moudi NAJJAR, 15. Aleksandar SUSNJAR (16. Oliver JONES 73rd), 37. Jed DREW (36. Ali AUGLAH 72nd), 44. Matthew MILLAR (2. Jake MCGING 81st), 99. Daniel ARZANI (35. Al Hassan TOURE 46th).
Unused substitutes: 1. Nicholas SUMAN (gk), 9. Bachana ARABULI.
20. Oli SAIL (gk), 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 72nd), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS (19. Sam SUTTON 65th), 14. Alex RUFER (c) (13. Nicholas PENNINGTON 72nd), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 21. Joshua LAWS, 31. Yan SASSE (8. Ben OLD 53rd).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 15. Nikko BOXALL.
6. Tomislav USKOK (Macarthur FC) – yellow – 34th
37. Jed DREW (Macarthur FC) – yellow – 36th
11. Kearyn BACCUS (Macarthur FC) – yellow – 43rd
14. Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 45+2
24. Oskar VAN HATTUM (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90+5