Bertos Still ‘Bitter’ Over Handball Two Years On

Leo Bertos hasn’t forgotten the handball incident in Wellington Phoenix’s Hyundai A-League preliminary final against Sydney two years ago.

Chris Payne was awarded the controversial goal by referee Peter Green which put Sydney 2-1 up in the 30th minute and changed the course of the game which the Sky Blues went on to win 4-2 at the Sydney Football Stadium.

They were crowned champions a week later after defeating Melbourne Victory 4-2 on penalties.

“I’m still a little bit bitter that there was that dubious decision, the little handball incident that should have gone our way,” said Bertos ahead of his side’s elimination final against the Sky Blues in Wellington on Friday night.

“They scored from that and it changed the game. But we’re on our home patch now. I’m not saying we’re going to throw any handballs out there but hopefully we can give them a good game.

“We really want to win this one. It’s been a tough year for everybody. We’ve got this far but we want to go further than we did a few years ago and we believe we have the team here to do that.”

That run to the preliminary final was the best season by far for the Phoenix, who have made the play-offs each year since then.

They bowed out away to Adelaide United in the elimination final last year before ending this regular season in fourth.

They have an added incentive to get to the grand final this year following the shock retirement announcement by Tim Brown on Monday.

The hard-working midfielder will hang up his boots at the end of this A-League season to study for a Masters degree in management at either the London School of Economics or Cambridge University.

Brown, 31, is one of the foundation members of the club, and passed his 100-game milestone earlier this season.

He and Bertos have been playing football together since their school days and have enjoyed plenty of success with the Phoenix and New Zealand All Whites.

“We’ve known each other a long, long time and it’s been great along the way,” said Bertos.

“We’ve become close friends. Our families are pretty close too. Something like this we didn’t think would come so soon. But he’s got other things he wants to pursue and I’m 100 percent behind him in his decision.

“He’s done a lot for the game in New Zealand. It will be nice to give him a little going away present if we can.”

Bertos has been taking some stick from his teammates following his goal against Central Coast Mariners on Sunday, which initially looked like a well-taken free-kick.

“It was a shot but it was a cross at the same time. It’s a new invention, a shross,” said Bertos laughing.

“In that situation my plan was to hit it hard at the goal but a bit lower than that so maybe our attackers could get a head on to it or if they didn’t it would creep in the goal. I think I just caught it a bit too well and it went in.”

Tony Lochhead came off with a sore knee in that 2-1 loss but an MRI scan has cleared the defender of any structural damage.

He has bruising to the kneecap but is expected to play on Friday night.

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