More than 18,000 fans cheer the Phoenix back to the top of the men’s A-League

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix love affair with Auckland’s Eden Park continues after a 2-1 win against Sydney extended the club’s unbeaten run to 12 games at the national stadium.

Cheered on by more than 18,000 fans — their biggest crowd of the season — the Phoenix had to come back from a goal down to beat Ufuk Talay’s Sydney and snap the Sky Blues’ eight-match unbeaten run.

The Phoenix are now three points clear of Central Coast Mariners heading into the A-League’s international break.

Head coach Giancarlo Italiano believes the 18,002 fans played a major role in the comeback win.

“I’m very happy for the players that they experienced that because it’s great to be part of,” Italiano told media post-match.

“I’ve been part of some really big games over the last five years when Uffy (Ufuk Talay) was in charge with the Covid games, coming back here for Perth and the one in Wellington I remember when we played Western United. They’re unbelievable memories.

“Crowds make games. I think that’s going to be the difference for us from where we are now to where we’re going to end up at the end of the season.

“Any support we can get, any boost. 12th players I call them the crowd. They’re going to be massive.”

Veteran forward Kosta Barbarouses scored the match-winner for the Phoenix midway through the second half, after setting up the equaliser shortly after halftime.

Kosta Barbarouses is mobbed by teammates after scoring the winner.

Barbarouses has now scored 91 A-League goals to move up to fifth on the all-time men’s list, ahead of former Socceroo Archie Thompson.

“I thought it was one of his best 90 minutes for the season.

“The first half, he would have been very disappointed missing that chance…[but] in the second half, the second goal he took was fantastic.

“It takes a lot of confidence to cut back in…and he actually took it quite well so I was very happy for him.

Interested spectators … the management team from new A-League rivals Auckland FC.

Three changes to starting line-up

Giancarlo Italiano made three changes to the XI which started last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Melbourne City, with Sam Sutton, Isaac Hughes and Nicholas Pennington replacing Lukas Kelly-Heald, Youstin Salas and David Ball, who were named on the bench alongside fit-again forward Oskar van Hattum.

The Phoenix found themselves a goal down just five minutes into the match after Sydney forward Robert Mak curled a shot into the back of the net after Pennington appeared to be fouled on the edge of the Wellington box.

Barbarouses had a great chance to draw the Nix level in the 11th minute when he got on the end of a
sumptuous diagonal ball from Sam Sutton. But Sydney ‘keeper Andrew Redmayne managed to get his fingertips to Barbarouses’ chip and the Sky Blues were able to scramble clear.

It sparked the Phoenix to life with Pennington blasting a shot that was deflected wide of goal before Scott Wootton headed wide from a corner.

Eden Park’s North Stand was packed. Photo credit: Rachel Lilburn.

Their momentum was disrupted soon after when Italiano was forced to make an early substitution, bringing Salas on for Tim Payne, who suffered a hamstring injury.

Sydney came close to doubling their lead midway through the first half with midfielder Jordan Courtney-Perkins drawing a fingertip save from Alex Paulsen before defender Gabriel Lacerda skimmed the crossbar with a volley.

The Sky Blues thought they had made it 2-0 in the 28th minute when Courtney-Perkins found the back of the net from close range. However, the goal was overturned by the video assistant who deemed Courtney-Perkins committed a handball.

The Nix lifted after the let-off and came close to finding an equaliser. Ben Old found the side-netting after being slipped into the box by Sutton while Redmayne was at full stretch to keep out a Finn Surman header soon after.

Sydney’s ‘keeper made another good save in first half stoppage time to keep out another effort from Kosta Barbarouses.

Barbarouses created the leveller eight minutes into the second half when he delivered a dangerous ball to the back post that Hayden Matthews toed into his own net. The goal originally was ruled out for offside before the VAR again intervened to Wellington’s benefit.

Mayhem in the Sydney defence as they concede an own goal to the Nix.

Paulsen made a triple save an hour into the match, the first to tip a header on to his post, to ensure the Sky Blues didn’t reclaim the lead.

Instead it was the Phoenix who went ahead in the 69th minute when Salas released Barbarouses down the right wing. He beat two defenders by cutting inside on to his left foot and then calmly slotted his shot around Redmayne into the far corner.

Kosta Barbarouses was one-on-one with Sydney’s ‘keeper soon after but this time his touch let him down.

There were few goalscoring opportunities for the remaining 20 minutes and stoppage time, with the Nix professionally closing out the match.

The only negative for Wellington was a couple of hamstring injuries, with young defender Isaac Hughes forced off late on after fullback Tim Payne had to watch the majority of the match from the bench.

The Wellington Phoenix will return to action after the international break with a home match against the Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium on Easter Sunday.

Match highlights


Game played on Saturday March 16, 2024

Wellington Phoenix 2 (own goal 54′, Kosta Barbarouses 69′)
Sydney 1 (Róbert Mak 6′)


Table at 9am (NZT) on Sunday March 17.


Wellington Phoenix

40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE (17. Youstin SALAS 19th), 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (12. Mo AL-TAAY 75th), 19. Sam SUTTON, 26. Isaac HUGHES (10. David BALL 88th).

Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 5. Fin CONCHIE, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM.


1. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 4. Jordan COURTNEY-PERKINS, 10. Joe LOLLEY, 11. Robert MAK (16. Joel KING 89th), 12. Corey HOLLMAN (22. Max BURGESS 72nd), 15. Gabriel LACERDA (6. Jack RODWELL 72nd), 17. Anthony CACERES, 23. Rhyan GRANT, 25. Jaiden KUCHARSKI (9. Fabio GOMES 60th), 26. Luke BRATTAN (c), 27. Hayden MATTHEWS.

Unused substitutes: 20. Adam PAVLESIC (gk), 18. Matthew SCARCELLA, 19. Mitchell GLASSON.


19. Sam SUTTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 79′
4. Scott WOOTTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 89′


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