Wellington Phoenix retain men’s A-League lead despite 3-1 loss to Sydney FC

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix remain top of the men’s A-League despite Sydney FC handing them their second defeat of the season.

The Sky Blues beat the Phoenix 3-1 at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, scoring two late goals after Kosta Barbarouses found the back of the net for the fourth time in three games to draw the Nix level in the 81st minute.

Wellington will be joined on 20 points by Melbourne Victory if they beat Adelaide United on Saturday night.

Main photo: Wellington’s Ben Old led Sydney a merry chase at times.

Giancarlo Italiano … ‘I’m extremely proud of my group.’

Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano felt his side was unlucky to leave Allianz Stadium empty-handed after a strong second-half showing.

“I’m extremely proud of my group, especially after the first half,” Italiano told media post-match.

“I thought we took a long time to get into the game [and] we gave away a really soft goal off the corner.

“I think we still had a couple of good chances in that first half but it wasn’t working as well as we’d planned.

“I think the players gave everything in the second half, they did exactly what I asked and I can’t fault them for that.

“I think that shows a lot of character within the group. There’s a lot of belief … and we were five minutes away from getting a draw away from home against a really tough opponent.”

Sydney’s second goal came after a rare error from young goalkeeper Alex Paulsen when he gave away possession deep in the Wellington half.

“It happens. [If] we’re faulting him for one mistake in round 10 then it’s pretty good.

“It’s going to happen. It won’t be the last time.

“Could he improve potentially the timing or the weight of the pass? Yes, but he’s still a young kid as well and to expect anyone to be faultless is not reasonable.”

Phoenix start with unchanged line-up

Giancarlo Italiano named an unchanged XI, selecting the same starting line-up and bench from their past two matches, with Tim Payne playing his 100th A-League match and Scott Wootton his 50th.

The Phoenix struggled to play through the Sydney press in the first half and spent large periods pinned in their defensive third.

Paulsen was kept busy. He made a couple of regulation saves inside the opening five minutes and was soon picking the ball out of his own net.

The Nix were unable to deal with a right-wing corner in the 11th minute and the loose ball fell to Sydney defender Rhyan Grant, who swept home from seven yards out.

Sydney take the lead to the delight of their fans.

While the Sky Blues spent much of the first 45 in Wellington’s half and registered 20 shots, only five were on target, with Finn Surman and Scott Wootton in particular blocking a number of the hosts’ efforts.

The Phoenix had their fair share of first half goalscoring chances. Ben Old, who impressed throughout, had a shot blocked in the Sydney box in the sixth minute before slipping Bozhidar Kraev through on goal shortly after, but the Bulgarian was unable to beat experienced ‘keeper Andrew Redmayne.

Redmayne made a sharp stop with his right foot to also deny Kraev midway through the half, after Paulsen had made a great point blank save to prevent Robert Mak from scoring the Sky Blues’ second.

Barbarouses also had an opportunity to equalise before halftime when he got in behind the Sydney defence, but he under-hit his shot straight into Redmayne’s arms.

The Nix started the second half brightly and looked the team more likely to score next.

Payne sprung forward down the right flank seconds after halftime but he was unable to pick out Barbarouses or David Ball with a threatening cross.

Barbarouses also flashed a left-footed volley over the bar in the 57th minute shortly before Kraev forced Redmayne to make a sharp save and Old curled a right-footed shot wide of goal.

Wellington had six shots before Sydney threatened Paulsen’s goal in the second half.

Alex Paulsen makes a save for the Phoenix.

The young ‘keeper made a couple of strong saves in quick succession to deny Mak and substitute Patrick Wood before comfortably holding on to a curling effort from Wood.

The Phoenix were finally rewarded for their second half endeavour in the 81st minute when Old burst through midfield, slipped Oskar van Hattum, who was fresh off the bench, in behind the Sky Blues’ defence and he picked out Barbarouses at the back post to level the scores.

Kosta Barbarouses enjoys the moment after scoring his fourth goal in three games.

Sydney reclaimed the lead just a handful of minutes later when they pounced on a wayward pass from Paulsen and Mak made no mistake this time around, smashing his shot into the back of the net.

Brazilian forward Fabio Gomes sealed the three points for the hosts in the fourth minute of stoppage time with a calmly taken finish.

The Wellington Phoenix will remain in Sydney over New Year before flying to South Australia on Wednesday for their next match against Adelaide United on Thursday night.

Match highlights


Game played on Friday December 29, 2023

Sydney 3 (Rhyan Grant 11′, Röbert Mak 86′, Fábio Gomes 90+4′)
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Kosta Barbarouses 81′)


Table at 11.30pm (NZT) on Friday December 29.


Sydney FC

1. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 6. Jack RODWELL (4. Jordan COURTNEY-PERKINS 90+5), 8. Jake GIRDWOOD-REICH (9. Fabio GOMES 77th), 10. Joe LOLLEY (19. Mitchell GLASSON 90+5), 11. Robert MAK, 15. Gabriel LACERDA, 16. Joel KING, 17. Anthony CACERES (22. Max BURGESS 59th), 23. RHYAN GRANT, 25. Jaiden KUCHARSKI (13. Patrick WOOD 60th), 26. Luke BRATTAN (c).

Unused substitutes: 20. Adam PAVLESIC (gk), 28. Nathan AMANATIDIS.

Wellington Phoenix

40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 10. David BALL (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 73rd), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (12. Mohamed AL-TAAY 73rd), 19. Sam SUTTON (23. Luke SUPYK 89th).

Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 5. Fin CONCHIE, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 26. Isaac HUGHES.


25. Jaiden KUCHARSKI (Sydney FC) – yellow – 25′
6. Jack RODWELL (Sydney FC) – yellow – 33′
8. Jake GIRDWOOD-REICH (Sydney FC) – yellow – 43′
11. Robert MAK (Sydney FC) – yellow – 63′
22. Max BURGESS (Sydney FC) – yellow – 83′
19. Sam SUTTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 88′
13. Patrick WOOD (Sydney FC) – yellow – 90+1′
9. Fabio GOMES (Sydney FC) – yellow – 90+4′


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

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