Latest win sends Wellington Phoenix five points clear at top of men’s A-League

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix are in uncharted territory in the men’s A-League, having already matched their win tally from last season when they qualified for the finals.

Their latest win — a 2-0 victory at home against Western United — sent the Phoenix five points clear at the top of the Isuzu UTE League ladder.

It stretches the Nix’s unbeaten run to seven matches, and was the side’s seventh clean sheet of the season.

Head coach Giancarlo Italiano declared himself to be “quite happy” post-match.

“They were very good. I felt as though we scored at the right time both early in the first half [and] early in the second half.

“The conditions were pretty poor for good football. When it did calm down and we stuck to what we had trained for it was pretty good.”

Giancarlo Italiano … ‘we’ve set our own targets.’

Italiano was forced to bring club captain Alex Rufer and fellow midfielder Nicholas Pennington off inside the final half an hour.

“We kind of lost a little bit after that, just more balance than anything especially with the build-up.

“But I didn’t really think at the end they had much getting in behind.

“I thought [Daniel] Penha was their strongest player. He was the only one that was going to do anything, and I felt we dealt with him quite well.”

Phoenix fans were chanting ‘we’re going to win the league’ throughout the second half and Italiano was asked post-match if he feels they can.

“I’ll answer that towards the end of May. I’m not looking that far ahead.

“We’ve set our own targets now within the group internally. I think they’re realistic targets and we’re going to try and apply ourselves to those goals.

“Winning the competition there are so many variables … but the one thing that we can control is our performances week-in, week-out and that’s what we stick to.

“If we get to May and we get to that last game, the boys deserve it. If they don’t, they still deserve all the applause they’re getting at the moment.”

Two changes to starting line-up

Giancarlo Italiano made two changes to the XI which started the scoreless draw against Central Coast on Waitangi Day, with Pennington (suspension) and Mo Al-Taay (injury) returning in place of Ben Old and Oskar van Hattum, who were named amongst the substitutes.

Pennington put the Phoenix in front a little over two minutes into the match when he tapped home from four yards out after being played in by Bozhidar Kraev, who was wearing the unfamiliar no. 49 shirt.

Bozhidar Kraev … set up the opening goal.

It was the midfielder’s first goal of the season and second in his 52nd A-League match.

Western had their first shot soon after with Penha having a go from distance. His effort bounced safely into Alex Paulsen’s arms.

The Brazilian was their most dangerous player throughout. He blazed over from 25 yards in the 18th minute and struck the top of the Wellington crossbar half a dozen minutes later from a free-kick.

The Nix dominated possession in the first half and managed to play through the Western midfield regularly, but were unable to find the final pass to unlock the visitors’ defence and double the lead.

Kosta Barbarouses had a shot well-blocked by Kane Vidmar half an hour into the match and Kraev dragged a shot narrowly wide of the far post a minute out from halftime.

The Phoenix doubled their lead 93 seconds into the second half after a free-flowing passing move that started with Paulsen on the edge of Wellington’s box.

Pennington played a major role in the build-up to the goal before heading down a Tim Payne cross that deflected off Western centre back James Donachie and into the back of the Western net.

The Nix drew their ‘keeper Thomas Howard-Belle into two saves soon after. He did well to parry away an edge-of-the-box volley from Kraev and made a more regulation stop to deny Barbarouses’ effort from the top of the penalty area.

Rufer was forced off an hour into the match and while Wellington lost some of their control they still looked the more likely side to score next.

David Ball shot narrowly wide of the right-hand post in the 72nd minute before Finn Surman flashed a header across goal half a dozen minute later.

Barbarouses also had a cut-back from the byline with 10 minutes to go that just evaded Ball.

Pennington limped off shortly after and was replaced by centre back Isaac Hughes, who slotted into a back five.

Wellington managed the remaining seven minutes of normal time plus stoppage time to secure their ninth win from 17 matches this season.

After two home games in five days, the Wellington Phoenix will embark on a two-game road trip, starting with a visit to Macarthur FC on Sunday week.

Match highlights


Game played on Saturday February 10, 2024

Wellington Phoenix 2 (Nicholas Pennington 3′, own goal 47′)
Western United 0


Table at 9am (NZT) on Sunday February 11.


Wellington Phoenix

40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 10. David BALL, 12. Mohamed AL-TAAY (5. Fin CONCHIE 69th), 14. Alex RUFER (c) (8. Ben OLD 60th), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (26. Isaac HUGHES 83rd), 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 49. Bozhidar KRAEV.

Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.

Western United

1. Thomas HEWARD-BELLE (gk), 4. James DONACHIE, 8. Lachlan WALES, 9. Michael RUHS (7. Ramy NAJJARINE 71st), 11. Daniel PENHA, 19. Joshua RISDON (c), 21. Sebastian PASQUALI (42. Rhys BOZINOVSKI 71st), 22. Kane VIDMAR, 32. Angus THURGATE (39. Matthew GRIMALDI 83rd), 36. Zach LISOLAJSKI (29. Charbel SHAMOON 59th), 38. Noah BOTIC (13. Nikita RUKAVYTSYA 59th).

Unused substitutes: 33. Matthew SUTTON (gk), 44. Jordan LAUTON.


21. Sebastian PASQUALI (Western United) – yellow – 27′
4. James DONACHIE (Western United) – yellow – 71′
40. Alex PAULSEN (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90+4′


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