At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Wellington Phoenix 2 (Sam Sutton 79’, Kosta Barbarouses 90’) Melbourne City 2 (Jamie Maclaren penalty-16’, Marco Tilio 34’) HT: 0-2
Kosta Barbarouses celebrated his 50th appearance for Wellington Phoenix in style by scoring a goal in the 90th minute to snatch an unlikely 2-2 draw away to A-League Men leaders Melbourne City.
The Phoenix fought back from two goals down to collect their third point of the season, with coach Ufuk Talay’s bold triple substitution of Barbarouses, Bozhidar Kraev and Oskar Zawada completely changing the outcome of the game.
Talay swung the axe after last week’s shoddy performance against Newcastle Jets, with Barbarouses, Kraev and Zawada dropping to the bench along with Steven Ugarkovic and Josh Laws.
But Barbarouses responded in the best possible way, scoring off the bench to register his first goal for the Phoenix in the A-League since returning to his hometown club.
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“Players need to recognise if they don’t perform they don’t start,” Talay said after the game.
“We made some changes to make sure players know there’s guys ready to take their spot, and it’s great to see that the guys who didn’t start came on and did a great job.”
The Phoenix found themselves in an early hole when they conceded a penalty for handball in the 16th minute and golden boot leader Jamie Maclaren made no mistake from the spot.
City were awarded the penalty after Socceroos World Cup hopeful Marco Tilio’s shot struck the arm of Tim Payne as he slid in to block it.
Oli Sail dived to the right but Maclaren went low to the left to continue his perfect record of scoring in every game of the season so far.
Tilio doubled City’s advantage with a tap-in at the back post in the 34th minute after Mathew Leckie pounced on a heavy touch from the returning Yan Sasse.
City looked on their way for a fourth straight win of 2022-23.
But Talay did not die wondering. He went to his bench early in the second half and brought on three attack-minded players at the same time.
They made an immediate impact. Zawada flashed a shot wide of the goal while Kraev had the ball in the back of the net, only for his goal to be rubbed out for offside.
Replays showed Kraev had strayed past the last defender before getting his head to a Clayton Lewis free-kick in the 65th minute.
City wanted a second spot-kick after referee Adam Kersey marched over to the monitor to review a challenge from Scott Wootton in the box.
But whistle-blower Kersey determined the centre-back had not committed a foul as he slid in to get the ball, replays showing Maclaren had already lost possession.
The Phoenix’s first goal was worth the wait. Sam Sutton laced a left-footed half-volley from outside the penalty area after a clearance fell kindly to the fullback following a 79th minute corner.
Their equaliser came after some positive play from another player who had been dropped to the bench.
Brought on with five minutes to go, Ugarkovic skipped past two defenders and split another two with a threaded pass for Ben Old,
Old saw Barbarouses running off the shoulder of Thomas Lam and slipped the ball through for the All Whites striker to bury into the bottom right corner.
Lam was sent off in stoppage time, shown a second yellow card after catching Barbarouses with an elbow to the head as they challenged for the ball.
Oli Sail; Callan Elliot, Tim Payne, Scott Wootton, Sam Sutton; Nicholas Pennington (Steven Ugarkovic 85’), Clayton Lewis; Ben Old (Josh Laws 90+4’), Yan Sasse (Kosta Barbarouses 55’), David Ball (Bozhidar 55’); Ben Waine (Oskar Zawada 55’)
The Phoenix made five changes to their starting XI following their defeat to Newcastle Jets with fit-again forward Ball, Sasse, Old, Pennington and Elliot coming in for Barbarouses, Zawada, Kraev, Ugarkovic and Laws. Sasse played in behind Waine in a tweaked 4-2-3-1 formation.
For the second time this season, the Phoenix scored late to snatch a draw, with Barbarouses’ 90th goal coming two weeks after Pennington forced an own goal at the death against Central Coast Mariners.
Old shone in his first start for the Phoenix. He was lively down the right and picked out Barbarouses with a wonderful pass to assist on the equalising goal.
The ninth-place Phoenix are yet to win a game, but a draw away to Melbourne City is the next best thing. They host Dwight Yorke’s Macarthur at Sky Stadium next Sunday in what will be the Bulls’ first visit to New Zealand.
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