‘I’m coming for you!’ Phoenix star takes aim at A-Leagues legend in pursuit of scoring greats

Catch all the highlights from Wellington's comeback win over Sydney FC in Auckland

Wellington Phoenix came from one goal down to beat Sydney FC 2-1 in a gripping contest between two of the in-form sides in the Isuzu UTE A-League on Saturday afternoon.

The 18,000-strong crowd at Eden Park was treated to a high-quality encounter in Auckland; the Sky Blues took an early lead through Robert Mak and thought they had doubled the advantage before Jordan Courtney-Perkins’ goal just before the hour mark was ruled out by VAR for a handball.

The ‘Nix drew level early in the second half through a Hayden Matthews own goal and after creating the equaliser, Wellington star Kosta Barbarouses proceeded to win the game for the hosts with a driving run and finish just before the 70-minute mark.

The result sent Wellington back to the top of the Isuzu UTE A-League table, three points clear of Central Coast Mariners who now have a game in hand over the Phoenix in an intriguing battle for the Premiers Plate.

Barbarouses became the fifth-highest goalscorer in Isuzu UTE A-League history on Saturday, with his 91st goal helping him past former Melbourne Victory teammate Archie Thompson on 90.

Up next on the leaderboard is All Whites legend Shane Smeltz on 92.

After steering Wellington to victory over Sydney, Barbarouses aimed a tongue-in-cheek message towards the player who, on current form, he’s a near-certainty to jump on the all-time leaderboard in the coming weeks:

“Smeltzy, I’m coming for you mate!”

“I really feel good,” Barbarouses added when summarising his goalscoring form on Sky Sports.

“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. 

“But I’m happy to be producing for the team – and it makes it easier when everyone is working extremely hard behind me as well.”

Barbarouses has 11 goals to his name this season – just four shy of his all-time best tally of 15 in a single campaign, scored for Victory in 2018-19 (finals included).

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Sydney FC took the lead after just five minutes and the Phoenix felt aggrieved not to have received a free-kick in the build-up to the opening goal.

Anthony Caceres robbed Nicholas Pennington of possession in Sydney’s attacking third but went through the back of the Phoenix midfielder to do so; referee Alireza Faghani elected not to call a foul as the Sydney midfielder pressed on toward goal.

Caceres’ initial shot was blocked but fell fortuitously back into his path to feed Mak down the left side of the box who fired Sydney into the lead.

Kosta Barbarouses had a glorious chance to level the score in the 11th minute when played over the top of Sydney’s defence by a searching, long through ball.

Barbarouses took one touch to control and in a one-on-one with Andrew Redmayne, elected to try and chip the Sydney keeper. Redmayne got his gloves on the ball to keep his clean sheet intact.

Sky Blues defender Gabriel Lacerda came close to his first Isuzu UTE A-League goal when he ventured forward for a corner, floated toward the back post and controlled the floating delivery off his chest.

Lacerda rifled a shot toward the top corner but rattled the woodwork.

Sydney were knocking at the door and Courtney-Perkins thought he’d doubled Sydney’s lead just before the half-hour mark when he brushed home a close-range finish after the ball fell kindly into his path in the six-yard box.

But VAR Kate Jacewicz intervened to reverse the decision on the field, spotting a handball from the Sydney defender. A deflection off Finn Surman took a touch off Courtney-Perkins’ arm before he put the ball in the back of the net.

Surman was denied an equaliser down the other end by a superb point-blank save by Redmayne after a swinging free-kick delivery from Ben Old.

The ‘Nix defender angled his header off the ground and on target but Redmayne adjusted with quick reactions to tip the ball over the bar. Redmayne was called into action again late in the half to push a Barbarouses strike whipped toward the bottom corner around the post.

Wellington had the ball in the back of the net 10 minutes into the second half after Hayden Matthews bundled Barbarouses’ cross towards the back post over the line.

The offside flag was raised on Barbarouses in the build-up to initially spare the young defender’s blushes, but after VAR’s review the decision was reversed and Wellington had their equaliser.

Then came a flurry of Sydney chances which forced Wellington to make repeat defensive efforts to keep the visitors at bay. Goalkeeper Alex Paulsen led the charge making multiple saves in the same sequence in an extraordinary piece of glovework.

Paulsen’s heroics down one end set the stage for Barbarouses to fire Wellington in the lead with a superb solo run and finish.

Barbarouses broke behind Sydney’s high line and drove towards the penalty area, cut past both Lacerda and Matthews and finished with aplomb.