The Wellington Phoenix remain unbeaten in the Isuzu UTE A-League under new head coach Giancarlo Italiano.
The Phoenix have secured a hard-earned 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory in their fourth round match in Melbourne to take home just their seventh point from their last 19 visits to AAMI Park.
In his 300th A-League match Kosta Barbarouses helped the Nix score their equaliser after the Victory had opened the scoring inside a quarter of an hour.
Wellington looked to have arguably the best opportunity to win the match when they were awarded a penalty late in the first half, but the decision was controversially overturned by the video assistant referee.
The result means the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory sit at the top of the ladder for the time being at least.
Italiano told media post-game it was another sound performance defensively.
“I think there’s been a bigger emphasis at training about defending and the competitiveness of the overall week, which is kind of hardening the players a little bit,” he said.
“Also, I think big credit goes to my assistant coach Adam Griffiths. He does a great job with our goalkeeper coach (Ruben Parker) not only on the defensive set pieces, but the way we defend in the box.
“There’s a lot of time that’s spent on that. And you can see the results.”
At the other end of the pitch the Phoenix remarkably didn’t register a shot at goal during the match, and Italiano concedes it wasn’t their best game with the ball.
“I’m hoping that over the course of the next three, four away games we start building and improving the way we build up.
“I think there’s been signs, especially against Brisbane and Perth, that when we do have the ball and tactically we execute everything we look pretty good, but it’s going to take time.
“We’re only in round four. These things unfortunately don’t happen straight away because if they did everyone would be playing unbelievably.”
Giancarlo Italiano named the same starting XI and bench from last Saturday’s 5-2 win over Brisbane Roar, with Barbarouses selected to start his milestone match.
The Victory started brightly, with Nishan Velupillay and Daniel Arzani looking dangerous down the flanks, and had their first shot in just the second minute when Frenchman Zinedine Machach found some space in the Phoenix box. Thankfully for the Nix, Machach shot straight at Alex Paulsen as he was being closed down.
Melbourne midfielder Ryan Teague opened the scoring shortly before the quarter of an hour mark when he slotted home from eight yards out after being picked out by right back Jason Geria, following good play by Velupillay.
Wellington edged possession in the first half, but the majority of it was in inside their third of the pitch and the Victory were the more threatening of the two sides. But the Phoenix defended their box well and Paulsen was up to the task when called upon.
The Nix levelled the scores in the 41st minute when the hosts’ captain Damien Da Silva directed a threatening Barbarouses cross past his goalkeeper Paul Izzo and into his own net.
Wellington looked to have been given the opportunity to take a surprise halftime lead when referee Shaun Evans awarded them a penalty for a foul on Nicholas Pennington. However, after a near three-minute wait following intervention from the video assistant referee, Evans’ decision was overturned as Pennington was deemed to be offside by the barest of margins.
The VAR also intervened early in the second half to overturn the referee’s decision to award the Victory a penalty after Lukas Kelly-Heald was wrongly deemed to have committed a handball in the box.
There weren’t any goalscoring opportunities for either side in the first 30 minutes of the second half, with the Victory not calling Paulsen into action until the 77th minute when he made a sharp save at his near post to keep out a shot from substitute Chris Ikonomidis.
The young Nix’ keeper made a more comfortable save from the resulting corner as Teague shot from distance.
Ben Old, David Ball, Sam Sutton and Jackson Manuel all came off the bench to help Wellington see out the match, with Paulsen making a further two regulation saves in time added on to secure a hard-earned point.
The Wellington Phoenix will return to action after the international break on November 25, when they play host to Melbourne City in the first match of a double-header at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart. Get your tickets here.
Wellington Phoenix: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (52. Jackson MANUEL 87th), 12. Mohamed AL-TAAY (8. Ben OLD 56th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (10. David BALL 56th), 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD (19. Sam SUTTON 71st).
Unused substitutes: 30. Alby KELLY-HEALD (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 42. Fergus GILLION.
Melbourne Victory: 20. Paul IZZO (gk), 2. Jason GERIA (28. Franco LINO 87th), 5. Damien DA SILVA (c), 8. Zinedine MACHACH, 10. Bruno FORNAROLI (22. Jake BRIMMER 75th), 14. Connor CHAPMAN, 16. Stefan NIGRO, 17. Nishan VELUPILLAY (7. Chris IKONOMIDIS 75th), 18. Fabian MONGE (4. Raimon MARCHAN 63rd), 19. Daniel ARZANI (11. Ben FOLAMI, 62nd), 25. Ryan TEAGUE.
Unused substitutes: 40. Christian SICILIANO (gk), 6. Leigh BROXHAM.
25. Ryan TEAGUE (Melbourne Victory) – 14th
5. Damien DA SILVA (Melbourne Victory) – 41st og
15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 7th
3. Finn SURMAN (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 17th
18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 45+4
2. Jason GERIA (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 83rd
6. Tim PAYNE (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 88th