Barbarouses stars in comeback Phoenix win over Sydney

Joel Gould |

Kosta Barbarouses celebrates Wellington’s equaliser with teammates in the 2-1 ALM win over Sydney.
Kosta Barbarouses celebrates Wellington’s equaliser with teammates in the 2-1 ALM win over Sydney.

Wellington have returned to the top of the A-League Men ladder with Kosta Barbarouses the star in a 2-1 comeback win over his former club Sydney FC.

The hosts got the better of two key video assistant referee (VAR) decisions to stretch their unbeaten ALM run at their ‘home away from home’ at Auckland’s Eden Park to 12 games.

Phoenix forward Barbarouses was the hero. His second half winner was his 11th goal of the season – just four shy of his all-time best tally of 15 scored for Melbourne Victory in the 2018-19 season (finals included). It was also his 91st in the ALM, lifting him above Archie Thompson as the fifth-highest scorer in the competition’s history.

“I really feel good,” Barbarouses said when summarising his goal-scoring form.

“I feel like this year, the responsibility has been on me to produce with goals – especially with Oskar (Zawada) being absent for so long. I’ve become a little bit more of that focal point in games, whereas when Oskar was (fit) I was playing a little bit deeper and the onus wasn’t really on me to score the goals.”

Sydney FC – unbeaten in their previous eight matches – remain in the top six but faded in the second half after taking an early lead.

Striker Robert Mak scored in the sixth minute after Anthony Caceres had spied him free on the left, marking the 14th time the Sky Blues had scored first in the league this season.

Robert Mak turns away after scoring for Sydney FC v Wellington.
Robert Mak wheels away after putting Sydney FC ahead against Wellington. (Andrew Cornaga/AAP PHOTOS)

Barbarouses had a chance to level after a long ball by Sam Sutton but his shot was well saved by Andrew Redmayne.

Gabriel Lacerda had a fierce shot hit the woodwork in the 23rd minute as Sydney pressed in search of a second.

The Phoenix failed to clear a cross in the 28th and Jordan Courtney-Perkins thought he had scored, but VAR ruled the ball had touched his forearm, much to the delight of the 18,002 fans.

Wellington started the second half pressing forward, with Barbarouses key.

He crossed to Bozhidar Kraev who would have tapped the ball in himself had Hayden Matthews not stretched out a leg to score an own goal.

The on-field call was that Barbarouses had been offside, but the decision was overturned to get the Phoenix level.

Wellington goalkeeper Alex Paulsen made three stellar saves in a matter of seconds as his goal was peppered before Barbarouses stepped up with a stroke of genius in the 69th minute.

The New Zealand international burst down the right, cut inside and unleashed a left-footer for the winner.

“I don’t think we were at our best in the first 20-25 minutes – we were actually pretty sub-par,” reflected Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano.

“Once we started moving the ball to break their press … we probably could have scored three or four in the end.

“I’m delighted we kept the record here, there was a crowd, there was a nice buzz and I think this guarantees semi-final football now.”

AAP