Late agony as A-League leaders Phoenix drop two points in stoppage time

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix have consolidated their place atop the Isuzu UTE A-League, despite being forced to settle for a share of the spoils in the opening match of round 15.

The Phoenix have drawn 1-1 with the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, after conceding an equaliser in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time.

Bozhidar Kraev had put the Nix in front in the 51st minute, scoring his fifth goal of the season to put Wellington on course to move five points clear at the top of the ladder.

Main photo: Bozhidar Kraev enjoys scoring his fifth of the season.

Instead, the Phoenix are now three points above their nearest rivals, but still can’t be knocked off top spot this weekend.

“I’m disappointed to give the two points away at the end and give them one point,” head coach Giancarlo Italiano told media post-match. “I felt we did enough to graft that out.

“I think there was one moment in the first half where I felt like they got in behind us…and I didn’t think they had much else apart from that.

“The amount of changes I had to make because of some unplanned substitutions with injuries and players fatiguing and so on, it probably cost us in the end.

“I don’t like making substitutions unless I need to. Today, unfortunately, I had to make too many.”

Italiano will now turn his attentions to Wellington’s mouthwatering match against the reigning champion Central Coast Mariners at Sky Stadium on Waitangi Day.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think the fans will come out in force. It’s a big game for us.

“Out of all of the teams in the A-League the Mariners are the ones that impress me the most because they have a new coach with a different way to what they were playing last year.

“They’re a young group with new ideas and I actually enjoy watching their football. They provide something to the league that no one else does.

“I’ll enjoy that from a tactical and coaching point [of view]. I get excited by this and so does the group.”

Nicholas Pennington takes on the Roar defence.

Two changes to starting line-up

Giancarlo Italiano made two enforced changes to the XI which started last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets, with Isaac Hughes and Oskar van Hattum named to make their first A-League starts in place of suspended captain Alex Rufer and the injured Sam Sutton. Scott Wootton led the side in Rufer’s absence.

Wootton played in the middle of a back three, with Hughes and Finn Surman either side of him, while Lukas Kelly-Heald and Mo Al-Taay started as the two wingbacks, with van Hattum up front alongside Kosta Barbarouses.

“I thought Isaac was one of the best players on the park to be fair. I thought he looked like he was a normal A-League player.

“I thought Oskar built into the game and I didn’t want to take him off. I thought he was doing quite well at right wingback.”

There was little to report from the first 20 minutes with Brisbane only managing a couple of off-target shots from outside the box.

Italiano soon made a few positional tweaks with van Hattum switching to right wingback, allowing Al-Taay to move alongside Nicholas Pennington in the centre of midfield and Kraev into the front three.

A packed Phoenix defence makes it difficult for the home side to break through.

The Roar continued to create half chances but none of them troubled Alex Paulsen in the Phoenix goal. Henry Hore produced their first shot on target in the 23rd minute but it was mishit and straight at Paulsen.

Al-Taay had Nix’s first goalscoring opportunity 10 minutes later when he found a bit of space on the edge of the Brisbane box but he blasted his shot high and wide of goal.

Wellington finished the half strongly without really threatening the hosts’ goal.

Barbarouses produced their first shot on target in the 43rd minute with an audacious long-range effort that didn’t trouble Roar ‘keeper Macklin Freke.

Freke was called into action a further three times before halftime, making regulation saves after shots from van Hattum, Pennington and Barbarouses.

The Phoenix started the second half how they finished the first and Kraev found the breakthrough five minutes after halftime when he headed home an inch-perfect right-wing cross from Al-Taay. It came after van Hattum had lost and then won possession on the edge of the Brisbane box.

Bozhidar Kraev heads the ball past Roar ‘keeper Macklin Freke.

The Bulgarian came within inches of making it two goals in four minutes when he shot from the edge of the box, but he dragged his shot narrowly wide of the left-hand post.

The Roar brought on new signing Marco Rojas and Carlo Armiento shortly after going behind and they sparked a positive period for the hosts.

Armiento twice tried his luck from outside the box and his first effort forced a good save from Paulsen, who parried his shot around his left-hand post.

Wellington’s ‘keeper was otherwise untroubled, with his defenders, led by 19-year-old Hughes, blocking a number of Brisbane shots.

Paulsen’s opposite Macklin Freke kept the Roar in the game in the 85th minute, sticking out a strong left hand to prevent Barbarouses from curling in the Phoenix’s second from a tight angle.

It looked like the Nix would see out the remainder of the 90 minutes and stoppage time to secure all three points before Brisbane substitute Corey Brown nodded home a Keegan Jelacic cross in the fourth minute of time added on.

Jelacic looked to have fouled Ben Old before crossing the ball, but the referee waved play on and the goal stood.

Goalscorer Corey Brown is congratulated by Roar teammates after scoring the equaliser.

Wellington didn’t have any opportunity to reclaim the lead before the final whistle blew and were forced to settle for a point.

The Wellington Phoenix will return home tomorrow and will have just a couple of days to prepare for their inaugural Waitangi Day game against Central Coast.

Match highlights


Game played on Friday February 2, 2024

Brisbane Roar 1 (Corey Brown 90+4′)
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Bozhidar Kraev 51′)


Table at 11.30pm (NZT) on Friday February 2.


Brisbane Roar

1. Macklin FREKE (gk), 6. Joe CALETTI (20. Marco ROJAS 62nd), 10. Nikola MILEUSNIC (35. Louis ZABALA 79th), 13. Henry HORE (99. Ayom MAJOK 38th), 16. Thomas WADDINGHAM (17. Carlo ARMIENTO 62nd), 19. Jack HINGERT (3. Corey BROWN 41st), 21. Antonee BURKE-GILROY (12. Taras GOMULKA 79th), 23. Keegan JELACIC, 26. Jay O’SHEA (c), 27. Kai TREWIN, 32. James NIKOLOVSKI.

Unused substitutes: 29. Matthew ACTON (gk).

Wellington Phoenix

40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON (c), 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 10. David BALL (5. Fin CONCHIE 70th), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (42. Fergus GILLION 89th), 12. Mohamed AL-TAAY (8. Ben OLD 74th), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM (9. Oskar ZAWADA 69th), 26. Isaac HUGHES.

Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 23. Luke SUPYK, 43. Matt SHERIDAN.


32. James NIKOLOVSKI (Brisbane Roar) – yellow – 59′
15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 64′
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 89′
35. Louis ZABALA (Brisbane Roar) – yellow – 90+1′


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