Isuzu UTE A-League Round 14 Match Review

Oskar Zawada has made a successful return from injury to help the Wellington Phoenix take the outright lead in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

The Phoenix have beaten the Newcastle Jets 2-1 at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, courtesy of Zawada’s 87th minute match-winner in his first appearance in seven weeks.

Alex Rufer’s third goal in as many games had given the Nix the early lead, which they held until 10 minutes from fulltime when the Jets equalised.

Wellington are now two points clear of second-placed Melbourne Victory 14 rounds in the 27-round season.

“I’m very happy with the win,” Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano told media post-match.

“I thought we merited the three points. I think we had the bigger chances in the game and upon reflection in the first half we should have scored three goals.

“Unfortunately we conceded another soft goal off a set piece, which we need to get better [at and] not allow teams to come into the game.

“I wasn’t happy just taking the draw…so credit to Oldie (Ben Old), Oz coming on, OVH (Oskar van Hattum) they did really well and they got us the win.”

Italiano is also happy to have some breathing space at the top of the ladder, but is refusing to get carried away.

“I keep saying this and I know it sounds cliché, but we take it game by game.

“We’ll reassess our goals probably in a month’s time closer to the business end of the season.

“We’ve got a congested fixture list now with three games within 10 days and that’ll be a big indication of where we’re at.

“Once we feel we’re comfortable as a group with where we’re going then we’ll put some other goals in place.”

Giancarlo Italiano made two changes to the XI which started last week’s top of the table match against Melbourne Victory with Sam Sutton and Mo Al-Taay coming into the side in place of the suspended fullback Tim Payne and midfielder Ben Old, who has been nursing an ankle injury. Zawada and young defender Isaac Hughes returned on the bench.

The Phoenix made a bright start and led inside five minutes. David Ball was fouled at the top of the Newcastle box a little over 100 seconds into the match and after the video assistant referee checked for offside the penalty was confirmed.

Rufer stepped up to the spot and blasted the penalty past Jets goalkeeper Ryan Scott to score his third goal in as many games.

Newcastle came within inches of levelling the scores in the 11th minute when Kostandinos Grozos unleashed a powerful volley from outside the box after Nix ‘keeper Alex Paulsen was caught off his line. Fortunately for Paulsen Scott Wootton came to his rescue, heading Grozos’ volley off the line and away off the crossbar.

It was the first of four big moments in five minutes. Scott produced a sharp save to deny Kosta Barbarouses one on one shortly before Paulsen did well to push away a header from Jets winger Daniel Wilmering.

Back down the other end Scott acrobatically palmed away a shot from Bozhidar Kraev.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 27: Bozhidar Kraev of the Phoenix with the ball during the A-League Men round 14 match between Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix at McDonald Jones Stadium, on January 27, 2024, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

There were few opportunities for either side for the next 20 minutes until Grozos produced a powerful long-range shot that Paulsen managed to push around his left-hand post.

The final chance of the half fell to Newcastle captain Brandon O’Neill when he was given a bit of space outside the Wellington box but he was unable to curl his shot on target.

Neither goalkeeper was tested in the 15 minutes after halftime with both sides spraying shots wide of goal.

Ryan Scott kept the Jets in the game midway through the second half, first pushing away a thunderous shot from Kosta Barbarouses at his near post and then spectacularly saving a Ben Old rocket. Bozhidar Kraev struck the far post from the resulting corner.

Newcastle themselves struck the woodwork in the 78th minute when fullback Dane Ingham found the top corner of the Phoenix’s goal with a cross come shot.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 27: Trent Buhagiar of the Jets celebrartes his goal with team mates during the A-League Men round 14 match between Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix at McDonald Jones Stadium, on January 27, 2024, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Substitute Trent Buhagiar drew Newcastle level moments later when he deflected another Grozos shot from outside the box past a wrongfooted Paulsen.

Buhagiar should have scored a second soon after but he was unable to direct his close-range header on target.

The Nix made the Jets pay for the let-off when Old, who impressed off the bench, slipped Zawada through on goal in the 87th minute and the striker thumped a left-footed shot past Scott and into the far corner of the Jets’ goal.

Wellington expertly saw out the remaining minutes to ensure they moved into the outright competition lead.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 27: Wellington Phoenix celebrate the goal of Oskar Zawada of the Phoenix during the A-League Men round 14 match between Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix at McDonald Jones Stadium, on January 27, 2024, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

The Wellington Phoenix will head to the Gold Coast tomorrow where they will train in the lead-up to Friday night’s match against the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium.

Wellington Phoenix: 
40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 84th), 10. David BALL (9. Oskar ZAWADA 73rd), 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mohamed AL-TAAY (8. Ben OLD 62nd), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON.
Unused substitutes: 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 5. Fin CONCHIE, 23. Luke SUPYK, 26. Isaac HUGHES.

Newcastle Jets: 1. Ryan SCOTT (gk), 5. Lucas MAURAGIS (7. Trent BUHAGIAR 67th), 6. Brandon O’NEILL (c), 8. Apostolos STAMATELOPOULOS, 14. Dane INGHAM, 17. Kostandinos GROZOS, 18. Daniel STYNES (26. Archie GOODWIN 46th), 19. Callum TIMMINS (15. Jason BERTHOMIER 89th), 23. Daniel WILMERING, 27. Nathan GRIMALDI, 33. Mark NATTA.
Unused substitutes: 20. Michaeal WEIER (gk), 3. Jason HOFFMAN, 22. Phillip CANCAR, 29. Justin VIDIC.

14. Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – 5th pen
7. Trent BUHAGIAR (Newcastle Jets) – 80th
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – 87th

8. Apostolos STAMATELOPOULOS (Newcastle Jets) – yellow – 23rd
12. Mohamed AL-TAAY (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 43rd
15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 45+3
33. Mark NATTA (Newcastle Jets) – yellow – 77th
14. Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 84th