Phoenix return to top of men’s A-League with 3-0 win against Macarthur Bulls

posted in: A-League (Men), News

Two goals from Kosta Barbarouses and a fourth of the season for Bozhidar Kraev have inspired the Wellington Phoenix to a 3-0 win against the previously-unbeaten Macarthur Bulls in the men’s A-League.

The win returned the Phoenix to the top of the Isuzu UTE A-League, jumping from fifth to first after eight rounds.

Kraev’s fourth goal of the season gave the Nix a deserved 1-0 halftime lead before Barbarouses scored a brace early in the second half to put Wellington in control.

Main photo: David Ball (right) is the first to congratulate Kosta Barbarouses after his first of two goals.

The Phoenix could have and should have scored more, but head coach Giancarlo Italiano was happier with the team’s defensive performance to bounce back from last week’s 3-0 home defeat to Newcastle Jets.

“Delighted for Kosta [scoring] two goals, BK was good, the whole team was good. I can’t really fault anyone,” Italiano told media post-match.

“I was looking for was an up in performance this week in terms of defence and making sure that we stick to our game plan, and it was irrelevant if we won or not.

“I base everything around the performance and if we defend well that solves half the problem and we don’t lose the game.

“I was really stoked, especially in that first half. They had a lot of chances and we defended well. They didn’t really have clear shots. They had a lot of half chances, which is done by design.

“And then once we scored, it opened up, and they had to go to plan B and plan C, and I felt like we exploited that quite well, so I was very happy.”

Young Nix goalkeeper Alex Paulsen also “came out clutch again”, saving his third penalty of the season to secure the team their fourth clean sheet of the season.

“At three-nil it’s a big moment right because you give them a sniff and then all of a sudden it goes 3-1 and then 3-2 and then everyone starts getting a little bit nervous.

“That penalty save definitely kept the momentum with us.”

Nicholas Pennington was one of five players booked during the game.

Three changes to Phoenix starting line-up

Giancarlo Italiano made three changes to the XI which started the seventh round defeat to Newcastle, with Sam Sutton, Ben Old and David Ball replacing Lukas Kelly-Heald, Mo Al-Taay and the injured Oskar Zawada. Kelly-Heald and Al-Taay were named amongst the substitutes.

Paulsen was the first of the ‘keepers to be called into action in the fifth minute when an attempted clearance from Nicholas Pennington ricocheted off Macarthur captain Ulises Dávila and fortunately deflected straight into Paulsen’s arms.

The Phoenix however looked the more threatening going forward.

Macarthur goalkeeper Filip Kurto made a good save down to his right to deny Kraev who headed a left-wing cross from Sutton on target in the 11th minute and a few moments later Kurto pushed away a cross-come-shot from Old who beat his man one-on-one in the box.

The Bulgarian was looking most likely to break the deadlock. Kraev twice had shots blocked in the Macarthur penalty area on the half hour mark, with the first block from Jonathan Aspropotamitis preventing a near certain goal.

Pennington came close to opening the scoring shortly after, finding the side netting after bursting into the Macarthur box and shooting with the outside of his right foot.

Kraev eventually found the breakthrough five minutes from halftime. Ben Old made a lung-busting run down the left flank to get on the end of a return pass from Barbarouses and then picked out the forward, who beat a Macarthur defender to Old’s cut-back and found the back of the net.

Bozhidar Kraev gets the ball over the line to score as he is clattered to the floor by a desperate defence.

Paulsen was only called upon to make two comfortable saves in the first half, holding on to tame efforts from Dávila and Jake Hollman.

He made a sharper stop early in the second half to push away a near post effort from Hollman, but the Nix continued to look the more dangerous of the two sides after halftime.

Barbarouses doubled Wellington’s lead in the 58th minute after Kraev showed great strength to hold off his opposition defender and then found the veteran forward who slotted home from six yards out to score his first goal of the season.

He had his second soon after when Tim Payne found Barbarouses in the box and he produced a quality first-time finish with his left foot to give the Phoenix a commanding lead.

Centre back Scott Wootton gave Macarthur a lifeline moments later when he brought down French striker Valere Germain in the Wellington box, but Paulsen came to Wootton’s rescue, winning the battle of wits to deny Dávila from the penalty spot.

Goalkeeper Alex Paulsen is congratulated by teammates after his third penalty save of the season.

The Nix had good chances to make it four or five-nil in the final half an hour. Kurto made two quality saves to deny Ball and Sutton in the 74th minute and substitute Oskar van Hattum pulled his shot wide of goal in the 90th after Ball slipped him in behind the Macarthur defence.

But the penalty aside Alex Paulsen was largely untroubled in the Wellington goal as the Phoenix defended resolutely to secure the clean sheet and their fifth win of the season.

The Wellington Phoenix will return home on Tuesday before turning their attentions to their Round 9 match against third-placed Western Sydney Wanderers at Sky Stadium on Saturday evening.

Match highlights


Game played on Monday December 18, 2023

Macarthur Bulls 0
Wellington Phoenix 3 (Bozhidar Kraev 40′, Kosta Barbarouses 58′, 61′)


Table at 11pm (NZT) on Monday December 18.


Macarthur Buils 

12. Filip KURTO (gk), 5. Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS, 6. Tomi USKOK, 8. Jake HOLLMAN, Ulises DAVILA (c) (36. Ali AUGLAH 76th), 15. Kearyn BACCUS, 22. Yianna NICOLAOU (17. RAPHAEL 76th), 23. Clayton LEWIS (7. Danny DE SILVA 59th), 32. Isaac HOVAR (16. Oliver JONES 46th), 44. Matthew MILLAR (37. Jed DREW 60th), 98. Valere GERMAIN.

Unused substitutes: 1. Danijel NIZIC (gk), 24. Charles M’MOMBWA.

Wellington Phoenix

40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD (5. Fin CONCHIE 76th), 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 85th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (12. Mohamed AL-TAAY 67th), 19. Sam SUTTON (18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD 85th).

Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 23. Luke SUPYK, 26. Isaac HUGHES.


22. Yianna NICOLAOU (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 9th
14. Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 13th
15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 26th
5. Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS (Macarthur FC) – yellow – 53rd
15. Kearyn BACCUS (Macarthur FC) – yellow – 85th


This story is published with the help of the Wellington Phoenix.

Visit the Phoenix Kit Hub

Here’s where you can buy your Wellington Phoenix apparel:

More football stories