The Wellington Phoenix have overcome some highly questionable officiating to break through for a long overdue win over Sydney FC.
The Phoenix have beaten Sydney 1-0 at Allianz Stadium, despite finishing the match with nine men and conceding two penalties deep in second-half stoppage time.
Polish striker Oskar Zawada opened the scoring in the 10th minute to give the Nix a deserved halftime lead.
Wellington comfortably defended their advantage until Bulgarian playmaker Bozhidar Kraev was sent off for a contentious second bookable offence midway through the second-half.
Another dubious refereeing decision followed four minutes from fulltime when Phoenix substitute Nicholas Pennington was shown a straight red card after an altercation with Sydney midfielder Max Burgess.
The referee and video assistant referee then combined to award the hosts two debatable penalties in time added on. Oli Sail spectacularly saved the first spot kick from Adam Le Fondre and Sydney’s English striker sprayed the second to allow the Nix to hold on for an incredible victory.
It is the Phoenix’s first win over the Sky Blues since December 2018 and sees Wellington jump above Sydney and into sixth on the ladder.
Wellington Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay expressed his pride in his players after the match.
“I think the boys showed fantastic character to get themselves through that,” Talay told media post-game. “And we walk away with the three points so the boys will be quite pleased with that.
“They defended the box very well. I don’t think Sydney had a real clear chance to score a goal in the second-half.
“There were probably half chances where balls have dropped or second phases, but I don’t think there was anything we gave them in the second-half.”
His blood pressure had returned to normal levels by the time Talay spoke to media.
“It was a little bit risen as the game was going on, but it happens. Decisions are made and we deal with the decisions at the time.
“I thought we played well in the first half. I think we should have scored maybe a couple of more…so if we come in at least two-nil at halftime I think we’re quite comfortable for the second-half.”
He was diplomatic when asked about the red cards, starting with Kraev’s second yellow.
“I think I need to see it again because it was on the other side of the field. Watching it live I thought it was soft. I don’t think there was intent to kick the player.
“The second one I can’t really comment because I don’t know what they actually did to each other at that time when there was all players around it.
“Obviously VAR have had a look at it and they’ve come to a conclusion that what Nicho did was a red card.”
Talay was also keen to get another look at the penalty decisions.
“It’s too far from me. I need to have a look at the video and have a look at the angle that the referees looked at it.
“From what I saw of the first one I thought it hit him in the back. I don’t know but we’ll look at it again.”
Ufuk Talay made two changes to the XI which started the 3-1 defeat to Melbourne City on Monday with club captain Alex Rufer and former Sydney forward Kosta Barbarouses replacing Steven Ugarkovic and Yan Sasse respectively.
Rufer made his first A-League start since March last year, when he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Zawada put the Phoenix in front just nine minutes into the match. The Polish number nine managed to nip in front of Sydney ‘keeper Andrew Redmayne to get on the end of a clever ball from Clayton Lewis and then showed great composure to beat a trio of Sky Blues’ defenders.
Sail ensured the lead wasn’t short-lived by producing a great reflex save just five minutes later. He quickly got down low to his right to get a hand to a powerful shot from Sydney forward Robert Mak.
David Ball had a great opportunity to double the Nix’s lead midway through the first-half. Ball was teed up by Zawada but the Englishman shot straight at Redmayne from eight yards out.
Bozhidar Kraev too had a golden chance shortly after the half hour mark when he was slipped through one on one with the Sky Blues’ keeper. But the Bulgarian also was unable to trouble Redmayne.
Wellington were happy to lead at halftime, but felt they should have had more than a one goal advantage.
Sydney made a strong start to the second-half and thought they had equalised in the 60th minute when fullback Rhyan Grant rocketed a back-post volley past Sail. But the assistant referee flagged for offside and VAR confirmed his decision.
The decision-making wasn’t so sound in the 71st minute when referee Shaun Evans sent-off Kraev for what he deemed to be a second bookable offence. Replays showed the Bulgarian made minimal contact and a second yellow card was incredibly harsh.
Talay had made a double-change shortly after the hour mark, bringing on Steven Ugarkovic and Pennington in place of Rufer and Barbarouses to try and sure up the midfield and he made a further change following the red card. Centre back Josh Laws replaced Zawada with the Nix determined to hold on to the lead.
That task became a lot tougher in the 86th minute when Pennington was shown a straight red and the Phoenix were reduced to nine men.
Further drama followed in stoppage time.
In the fifth minute of time added on Sydney were awarded a penalty after Wellington defender Tim Payne was deemed to have handled the ball, when replays appeared the show the ball hit Payne’s back.
Sail produced an incredible save down low to his left to deny Le Fondre from the spot but then the VAR intervened to award the Sky Blues a second penalty with 97 minutes on the clock.
This time fullback Callan Elliot was judged to have committed a handball as the Nix attempted to clear Sail’s save.
Le Fondre again stepped up to the spot and this time he sprayed his shot well off target.
The Phoenix were able to see out the remaining few seconds and secure a valuable three points.
It is just their third win of the season and first clean sheet of the campaign.
The Wellington Phoenix men will return home tomorrow before turning their attentions to next Saturday’s match against the Roar in Brisbane.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (13. Nicholas PENNINGTON 63rd), 9. Oskar ZAWADA (21. Joshua LAWS 73rd), 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 14. Alex RUFER (c) (5. Steven UGARKOVIC 63rd), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 23. Clayton LEWIS (31. Yan SASSE 90+4).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 8. Ben OLD, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM.
Sydney FC: 1. Andrew REDYMAYNE (gk) (c), 2. James DONACHIE, 6. Jack RODWELL, 8. Paulo RETRE (25. Jaiden KUCHARSKI 87th), 9. Adam LE FONDRE, 11. Robert MAK, 16. Patrick YAZBEK (19. Adrian SEGECIC 10th (12. Patrick WOOD 77th)), 17. Anthony CACERES, 18. Diego CABALLO (5. Connor O’TOOLE 77th), 22. Max BURGESS, 23. Rhyan GRANT.
Unused substitutes: 20. Thomas HEWARD-BELLE (gk), 28. Jake GIRDWOOD-REICH, 29. Aaron GURD.
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – 10th
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 34th
8. Paulo RETRE (Sydney FC) – yellow – 53rd
11. Bozhidar KRAEV (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow/red – 71st
22. Max BURGESS (Sydney FC) – yellow – 86th
13. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – red – 86th
20. Oli SAIL (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 88th