Phoenix edge closer to first ALM trophy with Roar win

Ben McKay |

Bozhidar Kraev’s early goal proved the difference as Wellington edged past Brisbane 1-0.
Bozhidar Kraev’s early goal proved the difference as Wellington edged past Brisbane 1-0.

By his own admission, Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano says the club will have better days.

Some may be just around the corner given the unlikely leaders find themselves six points clear at the top of the A-League Men ladder.

But on Sunday, Phoenix lost their skipper Alex Rufer to a red card and only just scratched out a 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar, clinging to the lead after Bozhidar Kraev’s second-minute strike.

Visiting coach Ruben Zadkovich certainly saw his Brisbane side as superior.

“(We) controlled most of the game. Had more possession. More final third entries. More balls into the box. More shots on goal. More shots on target. More corners,” he said.

“(But) we get nothing out of the game because we didn’t take our chances.

“Wellington, to their credit, that’s what they do really well. They’re very clinical at one end and they defend their box very well.”

Wellington also won ugly, with David Ball lucky to stay on the pitch after a high boot to the face of Tom Aldred before halftime, and Rufer dismissed for a stomp on Henry Hore in the 78th minute.

But if those moments weren’t pretty, the Phoenix’s early winner was a thing of beauty.

Italiano’s side tallied an uninterrupted 26-pass move from the kickoff – if you overlook a 50-50 challenge between Nicholas Pennington and Antonee Burke-Gilroy that fell fortunately for the Phoenix.

All 10 outfield players were involved – from Kosta Barbarouses’s backpass on the first whistle to Kraev’s deflected finish from Sam Sutton’s cross.

While Brisbane tallied 19 efforts on Wellington’s goal from that point, drawing eight saves from a faultless Alex Paulsen, none were incisive enough to find an equaliser.

“Was that our best? No, I don’t think so. We could play a lot better than that,” an almost-sheepish Italiano said.

“There’s nothing wrong with defending well. It’s worked for us all year. Our blocked-shot and defensive effort is all done by design.”

Italiano – who said he was “ecstatic” after the match – said the international break was a huge disadvantage to his side given six of his players were away with New Zealand.

“Half of our squad just just came back from Egypt and we had one day to prep for this game (so) I’ll take that performance,” he said.

The three points also means Wellington have equalled the club’s best haul in a season, with 46 on the board with four matches to play.

Wellington captain Alex Rufer applauds.
Wellington will consider appealing against skipper Alex Rufer’s sending-off. (Masanori Udagawa/AAP PHOTOS)

Their next clash – facing second-placed Central Coast, on 40 points with five to play – represents a massive opportunity.

Should Wellington claim three points in Gosford, they will be huge favourites to clinch the first trophy in the club’s 17-year history.

“It’s massive,” Italiano said, revealing the club would consider appealing against Rufer’s likely two-match ban.

Rufer appeared to have no malicious intent, slipping as he cleared a loose ball and as a result putting his studs into Hore’s hamstring.

“We’ll have to look at it again properly … if we go back on the video and it seems unfair, we will protect our Rufs,” Italiano said.