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Rufer stomping incident: Phoenix survive controversial red card in win

Michael Burgess,
Publish Date
Sun, 31 Mar 2024, 4:11PM

Rufer stomping incident: Phoenix survive controversial red card in win

Michael Burgess,
Publish Date
Sun, 31 Mar 2024, 4:11PM

The Wellington Phoenix have taken another step towards football history.

With four matches to play, they have extended their lead at the top of the A-League men’s table to six points, after a nervy 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar on Sunday afternoon.

It was much harder than expected against the Queenslanders but a goal after just 76 seconds from Bozhidar Kraev proved the difference.

The home side did well to hold on after being reduced to 10 men for the final 15 minutes when captain Alex Rufer was sent off. It was a controversial dismissal, with Rufer judged to have stomped on an opponent as they battled for possession, and a decision typical of the VAR era with the forensic checks. Rufer was sent off in the 80th minute, but there were five minutes of added time which saw the Phoenix play a bit longer with a man down.

It means Rufer will miss next week’s pivotal away clash with second-placed Central Coast Mariners due to suspension.

But for now, the Phoenix will celebrate getting the job done again as their season of surprising – and unprecedented - success continues. The result equals their best-ever points tally of 46, with four games still to go.

It wasn’t the most convincing performance – against a tricky opponent – but it was enough. Defensive resilience and organisation were again key, with goalkeeper Alex Paulsen equal to everything and the back four superb.

Wellington couldn’t have wished for a better start, finding the net before Brisbane had even touched the ball. A neat interchange of passing set Sam Sutton free down the left and his cross was neatly placed home by Kraev. Wellington then attempted to settle into their rhythm, as one of the best front-runners in the competition. But they weren’t entirely convincing, especially with the final pass and the visitors edged the rest of the half in terms of opportunities, as the Phoenix guilty of being too passive.

Paulsen was forced into two top saves – with one from Keegan Jelacic particularly impressive as he held his ground till the last moment, then reacted to the well-struck shot. Central defender Finn Surman, with his head bandaged after a knock in All Whites’ camp, also came up with a couple of timely blocks to maintain their advantage.

The Phoenix were getting exposed on their right flank, as both Mo Al-Taay and Youstin Salas were getting caught forward, making duplicated runs. David Ball had a scare just before halftime, as a stray boot caught Brisbane defender’s Tom Aldred in the face, but the officials stuck with a yellow card after a VAR check.

The Roar maintained their momentum after the break, building pressure with smart work in possession and an effective press. Ben Old was introduced just before the hour and almost provided an immediate impact, releasing Kosta Barbarouses who finished with aplomb after twisting past a defender, but the striker was judged fractionally offside.

The flashpoint came in the 80th minute, with Rufer’s dismissal, for an apparent stomp on Henry Hore, as they fought for the ball near the edge of the Phoenix area. It was judged serious foul play by referee Tim Danaskos, after a prolonged VAR check. It looked a tough call, with a yellow probably sufficient, as a succession of slow-motion replays – probably 15 - made the incident look much worse than it was.

But the Phoenix held firm and even created several opportunities on the counter, to seal their 13th win of the season.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Bozhidar Kraev)

Brisbane Roar 0

HT: 1-0

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