Christmas cracker! Stoppage time goals keep Phoenix top of men’s A-League

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix will be top of the men’s A-League at Christmas.

The Phoenix have beaten third-placed Western Sydney Wanderers 2-0 at Sky Stadium in Wellington, thanks to stoppage-time goals from Kosta Barbarouses and Ben Old.

Barbarouses broke the deadlock in the second minute of time added on before Old sealed the win two minutes later.

Main photo: Ben Old slots the ball past the ‘keeper and into the net. Photo credit: Natural Light Photography Company.

The result lifts Wellington four points clear of their nearest challengers, a third of the way through the A-League season.

Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano “had hope” his side would go on to win after a scoreless 90 minutes.

Giancarlo Italiano … ‘Today’s match was cat and mouse.’

“That was the plan,” Italiano told media post-match. “The game is never done until it’s over.

“Today’s game was very cat and mouse. Ruds (Marko Rudan) really set up well to counter us and I thought we set up really well to counter them.

“I said to the coaching staff at the beginning of the second half: ‘I hate watching this game’, because both teams knew exactly what they were doing, and it almost looked predictable.

“That’s not the intention. The intention is to tactically try to neutralise each other so you can gain an advantage, but it did feel like an arm wrestle.

“Bad to watch, but sometimes … when you have two defensive-minded teams like that, it happens a lot.

“It kind of played out the way I thought it would. I’m just glad we scored.”

Kosta Barbarouses … finds the net to break the deadlock. Photo credit: Natural Light Photography Company.

Barbarouses’ breakthrough goal was his third in two games, with the four-time A-League champion looking back to his best this season.

“He’s been great since our first pre-season game against Newcastle.

“Every week he’s always on the end of a chance and…once he scored that first one…hopefully the floodgates will open.”

Starting line-up stays the same

Giancarlo Italiano named the same XI and bench from Monday night’s 3-0 win over Macarthur FC, with Oskar Zawada remaining unavailable due to injury.

The first half showcased the defensive prowess of both sides.

Western Sydney outshot Wellington 11-3 before halftime, but five of their shots were blocked by the Phoenix who were well marshalled by Scott Wootton and Finn Surman.

Wootton set the tone by blocking a Nicolas Milanovic shot in the eighth minute and Surman produced a sensational lunging block to snuff out Wanderers’ best chance of the half three minutes from the break when Dylan Pierias unleashed a powerful shot from six yards out after Alex Paulsen was unable to hold onto Milanovic’s initial effort from the edge of the box.

It was the only save Paulsen had to make in the first 45, while his opposite Lawrence Thomas was also relatively unemployed behind a well-organised Western Sydney defence.

The only time he was tested was in the 13th minute when he quickly came off his line to prevent an opportunity for Bozhidar Kraev, who got in behind the Western Sydney back four.

The ball finds the net via the arm of Kosta Barbarouses (7).

The Nix did find the back of the net in the 42nd minute but the goal wasn’t awarded as Old’s header deflected off Barbarouses’ arm and past Thomas.

Wellington appealed for a penalty early in the second half when Wanderers captain Marcelo made contact with Kraev in the Western Sydney box, but despite the intervention of the video assistant referee no spot kick was awarded.

The Phoenix looked more threatening after halftime but they weren’t able to get on the end of dangerous crosses from first Tim Payne and then Barbarouses.

Substitute Alex Badolato came closest to scoring for the visitors. He found the side netting of Paulsen’s goal in the 73rd minute and eight minutes later called the Nix ‘keeper to make a strong save at his near post.

Bozhidar Kraev pleads for help from the VAR after his “goal” is ruled offside.

Wellington did find the back of the net for a second time inside 90 minutes, when Bozhidar Kraev got on the end of a Lukas Kelly-Heald cross, but like the first half the goal wasn’t awarded as Kraev was flagged offside.

Moments later Badolato was inches away from breaking the deadlock when he curled a shot from the left of the box that rattled the far post. Wanderers were convinced Paulsen’s fingertips pushed it on to the post but a goal-kick was awarded.

The breakthrough finally came with a minute gone in stoppage time when Barbarouses got on the end of a ball from Alex Rufer, took a touch around Lawrence Thomas and then slotted home from an acute angle with his left foot.

The veteran forward helped seal the three points a couple of minutes later when he led a Phoenix counter and threaded a pass through on his left for Old, who picked out the far corner and secured the three points.

Ben Old receives the acclaim of the crowd after his goal.

The Wellington Phoenix will have a brief festive break before turning their attentions to Friday night’s match against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium.

Match highlights


Game played on Saturday December 23, 2023

Wellington Phoenix 2 (Kosta Barbarouses 90+1′, Ben Old 90+4′)
Western Sydney Wanderers 0


Table at 8am (NZT) on Sunday December 24.


Wellington Phoenix

40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (26. Isaac HUGHES 90+5), 8. Ben OLD, 10. David BALL (23. Luke SUPYK 74th), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (12. Mohamed AL-TAAY 74th), 19. Sam SUTTON (18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD 78th).

Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 5. Fin CONCHIE, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM.

Western Sydney Wanderers

20. Lawrence THOMAS (gk), 6. MARCELO (c), 7. Dylan PIERIAS (39. Marcus YOUNIS 73rd), 9. Marcus ANTONSSON (17. Lachlan BROOK 86th), 11. Valentino YUEL (37. Alexander BADOLATO 66th), 14. Nicolas MILANOVIC, 19. Jack CLISBY, 21. Jorrit HENDRIX, 31. Aidan SIMMONS (13. Tate RUSSELL 86th), 33. Alexander BONETIG, 36. Oscar PRIESTMAN (2. Gabriel CLEUR 73rd).

Unused substitutes: 40. Jack GIBSON (gk), 29. Dylan SCICLUNA.


14. Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 30′
14. Nicolas MILANOVIC (Western Sydney Wanderers) – 75′


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