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Costly penalty miss for Phoenix in draw

The Wellington Phoenix missed the chance to go three points clear at the top of the A-League table after captain Alex Rufer failed to convert a 96th-minute penalty in a 1-1 draw with Newcastle Jets on Friday night.

An own goal to keeper Alex Paulsen put Wellington behind the eight-ball but Kosta Barbarouses brought the away side back on level terms in the second half at McDonald Jones Stadium.

A handball from Jets defender Carl Jenkinson led to a late penalty awarded to Wellington by referee Alireza Faghani which Rufer crashed off the post as the visitors were forced to settle for one point, instead of three.

The ‘Nix did return to the top of the table after the 1-1 draw – but Central Coast Mariners now hold the advantage in the Premiership race. The Mariners have two games to play opposed to Wellington’s one, and are just one point behind. 

Jets keeper Ryan Scott was immense for the home side on Friday night, making a string of quick-reflex saves amid a tirade of second-half Phoenix pressure which culminated in Rufer’s late penalty.

Scott guessed the right way and may have saved Rufer’s attempt had it been on target.

With Rufer failing to score from the spot, the 1-1 draw handed advantage to Newcastle’s bitter rivals Central Coast in the Premiership fight.

Newcastle could still have a big role to play in Central Coast’s last push for the Premiership, with an F3 Derby headlining the final round. The Mariners travel to play the Jets in Round 26 on Saturday, April 27.

Kosta Barbarouses Wellington Phoenix football
Kosta Barbarouses equalised for the Wellington Phoenix in the 71st minute. PHOTO: A-LEAGUE

Apostolos Stamatelopoulos had the chance to open the scoring inside two minutes when Lachlan Bayliss slipped the Golden Boot contender through on goal.

Stamatelopoulos attempted to cross from a tight angle instead of shoot, which allowed Finn Surman to make a sliding block.

The Jets were fast out of the blocks but Wellington held firm and began to show positive signs as Bozhidar Kraev shot wide on the turn.

But then came a rare mistake from Phoenix keeper Paulsen that gave the hosts the lead. The Jets made their way down the left wing with a series of neat passes which led to a Bayliss cross directed to the back post, but diverted over the line by Paulsen’s intervention.

Newcastle had their penalty claims waved away by referee Alireza Faghani after a Stamatelopoulos header struck the arm of Scott Wootton.

Down the other end Wellington patiently set about finding an equaliser, first through Mohamed Al-Taay who called Ryan Scott into a fine save low to his right, and then via Kosta Barbarouses who fired over the crossbar.

The Jets had a chance to double their lead deep into first-half stoppage time when Stamatelopolous fed Bayliss down the right wing with an inventive through ball on the turn.

Bayliss drove into the box, sent his marker Alex Rufer to ground and went eye-to-eye with Paulsen but this time the Phoenix gloveman won out, denying the young Jet another huge first-half contribution.

The ‘Nix quickly set about finding an equaliser after the restart and a magnificent save from Scott denied Sam Sutton a stunner from distance just minutes into the second half.

A chaotic sequence of events denied Newcastle a second goal. Stamatelopoulos attempted a cross to Daniel Stynes which Wootton blocked out but the rebound fell back to the Jets striker who attempted to find the roof of the net but thundered the ball off the crossbar.

Scott continued his impressive night in goal for the Jets when Ben Old’s floated delivery into the six-yard box led to a Kosta Barbarouses header which the Newcastle gloveman kept out with a combination of athleticism and anticipation.

With 30 minutes to play Wellington turned up the heat and an extended period of attacking play led to a deflected Ben Old shot which rattled the woodwork.

But all signs pointed to a Phoenix equaliser and the goal eventually came in the 70th minute, nodded into an empty net by Barbarouses after an initial chance for the New Zealand international that went begging.

With the equalising goal, Barbarouses equalled Shane Smeltz on 92 Isuzu UTE A-League goals – the fourth-most of all-time.

Barbarouses should’ve scored his 93rd league goal and put Wellington into a 2-1 lead when he met Kraev’s deft, chipped through ball and controlled off his chest to go one-on-one with Scott.

The ball skidded off the turf and with space closing, Barbarouses attempted to squirm the ball past Scott’s near post – but hit the woodwork.

The Jets looked to have reclaimed their lead after Trent Buhagiar came off the bench, broke Wellington’s defensive line and set up Clayton Taylor to finish – but a tight offside call on Buhagiar halted the home side’s celebrations.

There was more drama to come at McDonald Jones Stadium as a Jenkinson handball in second-half stoppage time led to a penalty to the visitors. Rufer stepped up to the spot but failed to take advantage of the opportunity presented to him to win the game for Wellington.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Kosta Barbarouses 71') Newcastle Jets 1 (Alex Paulsen 15' (own goal)). HT: 0-1


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