Wellington Phoenix 1
Macarthur FC 1
A-League referees boss Strebre Delovski can expect a strongly-worded "please explain" missive from the Wellington Phoenix after a game-changing decision in their 1-1 draw with Macarthur FC at Campbelltown Stadium.
As it happened: Phoenix denied win after red card
After dominating the competition's new boys for an hour of their round two contest and having taken a deserved 1-0 lead, Wellington were reduced to ten men by an utterly mystifying red card. Alex Rufer came together with Bulls player Denis Genreau in a midfield challenge and as Rufer fell, he was adjudged to have lashed out at his opponent and sent from the field for violent conduct.
That Rufer was lying on the ground, facing away from Genreau and had his eyes closed all escaped the notice of Video Assistant Referee Kris Griffiths-Jones who alerted referee Stephen Lucas to the supposed indiscretion. Even with the benefit of a replay, Lucas inexplicably agreed with his VAR and gave Rufer his marching orders to the utter bewilderment of Phoenix players, club coaching staff and everyone watching.
"My opinion is it is a very soft red card," said Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay.
"I thought we were cruising, I thought we were playing some really good football and I think that decision changed the game."
Four minutes later, Macarthur found an equaliser, Spanish attacker Markel Susaeta sprinting away from Wellington's undermanned defence and producing a firm finish to beat Stefan Marinovic at his near post.
Decked out in an eye-catching new blue/aqua playing kit for the first time, the Phoenix asserted their will from the first whistle, completely dominating the opening exchanges and fashioning a number of early goalscoring opportunities.
James McGarry saw his well-executed volley blocked, David Ball was also denied by a defender's lunge and Rufer came within inches of a maiden A-League goal, his left-footed speculator flying just over the crossbar.
Rufer and Cameron Devlin had by the far the better of the midfield exchanges and with the back four relatively untroubled, Marinovic wasn't called into action for nearly half an hour, but saved smartly from Aleksandar Susnjar after a set-piece.
For all their endeavour and dominance, it took until the 39th minute for Wellington to open the scoring, but it was worth the wait. Rufer collected possession for the umpteenth time in midfield and found Ulises Davila in a pocket of space between Macarthur's midfield and defensive lines. The Mexican turned into space before threading a precise pass into the path of a marauding McGarry. The young fullback's pullback from the left was met by Ball who swept the ball gleefully into the net from six yards. It was a gorgeous goal.
Talay made two changes to his eleven, promoting Davila and fellow attacker Tomer Hemed to the starting side. In his first start, Hemed was busy, and also found himself in the wars, suffering a blow to the nose which eventually forced him off early in the second half, blood streaming from a nasty gash. Just before his withdrawal, the Israeli almost scored a spectacular goal, attempting to chip Macarthur custodian Adam Federici from well inside his own half.
Despite the controversy, Wellington are on the board with their first point of the season, with good shifts from several players. Rufer and Devlin were tigerish in midfield, Ball worked tirelessly up front and there was a lot to like about the combination of McGarry and Clayton Lewis down Wellington's left.
The Phoenix now have a two-week break before hosting the Newcastle Jets in Wollongong on January 24.
Wellington Phoenix 1 (David Ball 39')
Macarthur FC 1 (Markel Susaeta 67')