The Wellington Phoenix have fallen 3-1 to first-placed Sydney FC last night, following a trio of controversial calls that went all in the home team’s favour - despite the Nix outplaying Sydney for large stretches of the game.
After a scoreless first half, Reno Piscopo converted a penalty to put the Nix up 1-0, only for Sydney to equalise with a penalty of their own. A pair of late goals from Trent Buhagiar sealed the victory for the defending champs, their sixteenth win in 21 matches this season.
With the competition resuming after a long Covid-19-enforced postponement, fans were eager to tune in to the first Hyundai A-League match since mid-March. Both the Phoenix and Sydney FC have been touted as potential Grand Final foes by football experts, giving the match an added impetus.
Wellington took to the field minus four regulars in the starting 11; Tim Payne and Cameron Devlin both sitting out due to suspension and Coach Talay electing to bring stars Ulises Dávila and Gary Hooper off the bench. This opened the door for both Louis Fenton – returning to the line-up for the first time since November 2019 - and Ben Waine in his second start since his debut last season.
The match began with both teams taking a cautious approach, with possession evenly spread and the Phoenix off target on a pair of early chances at goal.
The first contentious refereeing call came in the 13th minute, with an Alex Rufer kick striking the raised arm of Sydney FC defender Rhyan Grant. No infringement was called and a lack of VAR available meant a review of the incident was not possible – much to the chagrin of Phoenix fans.
First half highlights included a pair of impressive saves from Nix goalkeeper Marinovic, both off attempts by Sydney’s Luke Brattan. A nil-all halftime result saw possession evenly split between the two teams and the Phoenix having more attacking opportunities (six goal attempts against Sydney’s five) - Wellington looking in control in their first match in over 120 days.
The second half started with inspired play by Reno Piscopo, who spear-headed the Phoenix attack with his strong running game and smart decision-making. After Piscopo’s goal attempt at 56 minutes was blocked by Sydney FC goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, Sydney’s Adam Le Fondre attempt landed straight in the arms of Marinovic in an exciting back-and-forth sequence.
Wellington’s best opportunity came at 66 minutes after Liberato Cacace was taken down inside the box by Sydney’s Ryan McGowan. Piscopo slotted home the penalty kick, putting the Phoenix up 1-0 and giving the midfielder his second goal of the season.
Drama ensued shortly after when a recently subbed in Dávila was the victim of another contentious handball situation, this one called against the Phoenix when television replays appeared to show the ball contacting with Davila’s chest first. Le Fondre promptly slotted the penalty for Sydney - his 18th of the season - evening the score at one apiece at the 76 minute mark.
Dávila was again involved in the third controversial call of the night, when at the 83 minute mark the ‘Mexican Magician’ struck a beauty from outside the box – only for Gary Hooper to be called offside, much to Coach Ufuk Talay’s disbelief. Again, replays appeared to show that Hooper was being kept onside by a Sydney defender.
A few minutes later, Sydney caught an errant pass and streaked up the field, with Buhagiar scoring to put Sydney up 2-1. He’d do the same again two minutes later, scoring a brace to put Sydney up 3-1 as the full time whistle sounded – the final score hardly reflective of the Phoenix’s dominance on the night. A diplomatic Coach Talay reflected on the match afterwards.
''Sometimes it happens in the games they make calls that don’t go your way, and sometimes I believe the wrong decisions influence the game - and I believe tonight there were some decisions that influenced the result at the end of the day.
''I think we were the better side tonight, overall I’m proud of the team’s effort and performance-wise I’m very happy, but result-wise less so; but we learn and we move on.
''We’ll now look forward to the next challenge, which is Perth.''
The loss sees the Phoenix remain in third place, four points behind Melbourne City with five matches remaining. The Nix will next take on Perth Glory on Wednesday 22 July, at Bankwest Stadium in Parramata.
Wellington Phoenix Starting XI
1.Stefan MARINOVIC (gk), 3.Luke DEVERE, 5.Matti STEINMANN, 7.Reno PISCOPO, 9.David BALL, 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 13.Liberato CACACE, 14.Alex RUFER, 16.Louis FENTON, 27.Steven TAYLOR (c), 31.Ben Waine
Sydney FC Starting XI
1.Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 4.Alex WILKINSON (c), 6.Ryan McGOWAN, 8.Paulo RETRE, 9.Adam LE FONDRE, 10.Milos NINKOVIC, 11.Kosta BARBAROUSES, 16.Joel KING, 17.Anthony CACERES, 23.Rhyan GRANT, 26.Luke BRATTAN
Wellington Phoenix Substitutes
46’ ON 21.Callum MCCOWATT OFF 31.Ben WAINE
66’ ON 88.Gary HOOPER OFF 7.Reno PISCOPO
66’ ON 10.Ulises DAVILA OFF 11.Jaushua SOTIRIO
87’ ON 12.Brandon WILSON OFF 5.Matti STEINMANN
89’ ON 17.Callan ELLIOT OFF 14.Alex RUFER
Sydney FC Substitutions
69’ ON 7.Michael ZULLO OFF 16.Joel KING
69’ ON 5.Alex BAUMJOHANN OFF 17.Anthony CACERES
69’ ON 12.Trent BUHAGIAR OFF 11.Kosta BARBAROUSES
90’+1 ON 18.Luke IVANOVIC OFF 9.Adam LE FONDRE
90’+1 ON 19.Christopher ZUVELA OFF 26.Luke BRATTAN
66’ (Penalty) Reno PISCOPO (Wellington Phoenix)
76’ (Penalty) Adam LE FONDRE (Sydney FC)
88’ Trent BUHAGIAR (Sydney FC)
90’ Trent BUHAGIAR (Sydney FC)
Next Match details
Round 22 – Wellington Phoenix versus Perth Glory at Bankwest Stadium, Parramata; Wednesday 22 July 2020, 9.30pm NZT