Top of the league! Phoenix extend unbeaten A-League streak to six games

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix have taken the outright lead in the men’s A-League and they’re guaranteed to remain atop the table at the end of the round.

The Phoenix have beaten Western United 1-0 at Mars Stadium in Ballarat to move two points clear of their nearest rivals.

A 79th-minute goal from substitute Ben Old secured the Nix their fourth win from six matches to start the new season.

Main photo: Ben Old is congratulated after the VAR awards him his matchwinner.

“I didn’t envisage that we’d be top of the table after six rounds,” Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano admitted to media post-match.

“I had an inkling after our two pre-season friendlies…that we’d be quite competitive this season, even though a lot of people wrote us off.

“It was disrespectful but those two games also gave us a lot of insight.”

It is Wellington’s first win of the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League campaign in Australia, after draws at Western Sydney and Melbourne Victory in their previous two trips across the Tasman.

“Monkey off the back, also monkey off the back for the shots! I’m just happy with the fact that we came away with three points.

“Every game in the A-League is tough so getting three points in any away game there’s a lot of gratitude on our part, but I think we deserved it on the chances today.”

Italiano names unchanged starting line-up

Giancarlo Italiano named an unchanged starting XI, while fit-again striker Oskar Zawada and New Zealand U-17 international Luke Supyk replaced Isaac Hughes and Matt Sheridan on the bench.

Western started the better of the two sides and pinned the Phoenix deep inside their half for large periods of the opening quarter of an hour.

Alex Paulsen was tested for the first time in the 10th minute when he did well to tip a thunderous strike from Western forward Lachie Wales over the bar.

The Nix were prepared to play through the visitors’ press and had their first shot half a dozen minutes later when Mo Al-Taay volleyed over the hosts’ goal following a corner.

Wellington had arguably their best chance of the first half moments later when they won possession high up the pitch, but unfortunately Bozhidar Kraev pulled his shot wide of the target.

Kosta Barbarouses had the Phoenix’s next decent opportunity midway through the half when he found some space in the box after playing a neat one-two with David Ball. However Western defender Tomoki Imai was able to block Barbarouses’ shot.

The Phoenix defence shut out Western United, to earn their third clean sheet in six games.

The hosts came closest to breaking the deadlock seven minutes from halftime when Noah Botic rattled the far post with a curling left-footed shot. It came after one of the rare occasions when the Nix failed to play through the Western press.

Wellington finished the half the stronger of the two sides. Barbarouses nodded a Kraev cross narrowly wide of the far post in the 42nd minute and Imai did well to block a Kraev shot shortly before the halftime whistle.

The 15-minute interval didn’t halt the Phoenix’s momentum and they were unfortunate not to take the lead just moments after the restart. Tim Payne rattled the far post and then Western ‘keeper Tom Heward-Belle made a great point-blank save to deny Ball’s follow up.

Heward-Belle made a more regulation save seven minutes later as Barbarouses unleashed a volley from the edge of the area.

Italiano went to his bench an hour into the match to try and find a breakthrough, bringing on Zawada, Old and Sam Sutton.

Another busy day — and a clean sheet — for Phoenix ‘keeper Alex Paulsen.

Instead it was the hosts who looked the more likely to take the lead, with Paulsen making three sharp saves in a matter of minutes to deny Botic, Ben Garuccio and substitute Riku Danzaki.

Zawada had his best chance 13 minutes from fulltime when he found some space on the edge of the Western box, but he blazed his shot well off target.

Moments later the Nix found the breakthrough when Old started and finished a sweeping counter-attack. The creative midfielder burst out of Wellington’s half and found Barbarouses who delivered an inch-perfect return pass for Old, who swept a first-time finish past Heward-Belle.

The goal was initially ruled out for offside, but the decision was overturned following intervention from the video assistant referee.

The two combined again nine minutes later but this time Old dragged his left-footed shot wide of target.

Wellington defended their lead well with Paulsen not required to make any saves of note for the remainder of the 90 minutes and stoppage time. Western substitute Nikita Rukavytsya came closest to equalising when he skimmed the top of the Phoenix crossbar with a blistering shot in the 90th minute.

But the Nix held on to claim their fourth win of the season and move two points clear at the top of the ladder.

The competition leaders will return to Wellington on Sunday to prepare for their seventh-round match against mid-table Newcastle Jets at Sky Stadium next Saturday.

Match highlights


Game played on Saturday December 2, 2023

Western United 0
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Ben Old 81′)


Table at 9.30pm (NZT) on Saturday December 2.


Wellington Phoenix

40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 10. David BALL (9. Oskar ZAWADA 61st), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mohamed AL-TAAY (5. Fin CONCHIE 77th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (8. Ben OLD 61st), 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD (19. Sam SUTTON 61st).

Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM.

Western United

1. Tom HEWARD-BELLE (gk), 6. Tomoki IMAI, 7. Ramy NAJJARINE (77. Riku DANZAKI 60th), 8. Lachie WALES (13. Nikita RUKAVYTSYA 60th), 10. Steven LUSTICA (39. Matthew GRIMALDI 83rd), 11. Daniel PENHA, 17. Ben GARUCCIO, 19. Josh RISDON (c), 27. Jacob TRATT, 32. Angus THURGATE (21. Sebastian PASQUALI 88th), 38. Noah BOTIC.

Unused substitutes: 33. Matt SUTTON (gk), 22. Kane VIDMAR, 24. Connor O’TOOLE.


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