Wellington Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay has blasted the referee's decision to send off Alex Rufer in Saturday's clash with Macarthur FC, saying it was "disappointing" and a "game-changing" moment.
Phoenix striker David Ball and Bulls player Markel Susaeta both found the back of the net as the teams played out a 1-1 draw in an entertaining and, at times, heated A-League match at Campbelltown Stadium.
However, those goals were overshadowed by a controversial red card handed to Rufer in the second half after he allegedly lashed out at opponent Denis Genreau. The referee originally awarded Rufer a yellow card, but that decision was changed to red following a VAR review.
"In my opinion, it was a very soft red card. I know players quite well and Rufer isn't that type of player. I wish he was that type of player, but he's not that type of player... I want to him to be aggressive and win balls, I don't want him to kick and hurt players - that's never what we want. We want players on the field and to be challenged every game that we played," Talay said.
"For me, that changed the game. I thought we were quite comfortable in the first half and even the second half. I thought we had them by the ropes. We moved them around, shifted them around and played some really good football. But it's just disappointing with a decision like that, in my opinion, changed the game.
"I saw it in real time and, for me, it doesn't look like anything to me at the moment. He was given a yellow card and then he's been pulled back for some reason. It's a very disappointing call in my opinion, and that's what I think influenced the last 30 minutes of the game."
Bulls head coach Ante Milicic said he missed the controversial moment in real-time.
"I actually didn't see it, but I got the information from upstairs that I think he lashed out in impact play. But my analysis from upstairs was that he [Rufer] could be in trouble. But it was one of those games where there was a lot going on... so I can't really give any comments on the red card," he said.
"When they went to a player less, we waited for the right moment and we obviously took off James [Meredith] and we went to a back three, and we tried to attack a lot more.
"In the end, we did what we could and I'm just pleased with the boys' effort because that was excellent, the way they fought and their intensity in the second half. I'm disappointed that we didn't get all three, but we'll take the point and we'll move on."
🟥 for Alex Rufer after VAR overturns initial yellow card.— Fox Football (@FOXFOOTBALL) January 9, 2021
“They are saying this is violent conduct that lash out to the legs"
“Really?..Thats a really poor decision”
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In their new blue and aqua away kit, which was unveiled by the club via social media on Saturday morning, the Phoenix looked lively from the opening whistle.
Wellington had a couple of half-chances in the first 10 minutes. Their best opportunity came via Rufer, whose shot on the half-volley went over the cross bar.
After the Bulls were able to absorb the pressure without conceding a goal, the game settled into an end-to-end pattern.
Macarthur began to win more of the ball, with Lachlan Rose in particular looking a threat.
In the 28th minute, the home side nearly scored via Aleksander Susnjar, but Wellington goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic was able to make a vital save.
The game came alive soon after when Phoenix striker Tomer Hemed was able to find some space, however, Bulls gloveman Adam Federici came out of his box to boot the ball away. The ball then fell to Macarthur striker Matt Derbyshire, whose long-range attempt went over the bar.
While the Bulls had settled, it was the Phoenix who scored first in the 39th minute. Captain Ulises Davila put through a beautiful through-ball to a flying James McGarry, and his low cross into the box found David Ball and the striker made no mistake.
However, Macarthur continued to push hard before half time and were nearly rewarded when James Meredith found himself one-on-one with Marinovic, but the Phoenix gloveman was able to make an important save.
Wellington led 1-0 at the break.
The Phoenix nearly doubled their lead just three minutes after half-time. Hemed, from inside his half, noticed that Federici had snuck up the ground, but his long-range shot just missed the target.
However, the Bulls were able to settle after that opportunity.
The game's controversial moment occurred around the hour-mark when Rufer was awarded a red card. The Bulls were able to take advantage almost immediately, with Susaeta beating a diving Marinovic to draw level at 1-1 in the 67th minute.
Both teams continued to play positive, with Wellington working hard to cover being down a man. But the Phoenix's frustrations started to show, with Cameron Devlin receiving a yellow card for his challenge on Rose in the 83rd minute.
Minutes later, Genreau was also given a yellow following a strong challenge on Matthew Ridenton.
With the clock ticking down, the Bulls continued to press hard. Their best chance came via Derbyshire's loopy header, but the ball just went over the cross bar.
Marinovic appeared to injure his upper leg attempting to stop Derbyshire's shot, however, he had to remain on the field as the Phoenix had used all of their substitutions.
The Bulls had a couple of late chances, but both teams were forced to share the points by the final whistle.