‘It changed the game’: Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay frustrated by VAR howler

Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay has delivered a restrained response to Sunday’s VAR controversy, but felt the decision to award Melbourne City a penalty was incorrect.

Defender Louis Fenton was incensed when Video Assistant Referee Craig Zetter upheld on-field referee Ben Abraham’s decision to award a penalty for handball, despite the ball hitting Fenton’s chest from Denis Genreau’s cross.

It is not a handball if the ball deflects off the player’s body but Fenton was adamant never touched his arm anyway.

Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay has words with the fourth official Adam Bavcar after the penalty was awarded to City.

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Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay has words with the fourth official Adam Bavcar after the penalty was awarded to City.

When Abraham, who was in charge of his first A-League match, initially blew for a penalty, Fenton assured his team-mates that they had nothing to worry about as he thought VAR would see that the ball hit his chest and overturn the decision.

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But he was stunned when the decision was upheld and let his feelings known in a foul-mouth post-match interview with Fox Sports presenter Archie Thompson.

“I thought 100 per cent it’s no pen. It doesn’t even f…ing hit my hand. It’s f…ed,” Fenton said.

Despite losing the match 3-2, Talay kept his cool when discussing the controversial moment in his post-match press conference. 

“I don’t think it was our best performance to be honest today against Melbourne City but I thought we were still in with a fighting chance at 2-1, but the decision made the game a lot more difficult for us,” Talay said.

Phoenix players plead with referee Ben Abraham after he incorrectly awarded City a penalty.

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Phoenix players plead with referee Ben Abraham after he incorrectly awarded City a penalty.

“In my opinion I thought it came off his body first and then hit his arm after that and the new laws state that if it hits your body first and then hits your arm then it’s accidental and it’s play on, but that decision was made and that changed the game.”

Talay was just as frustrated by the way his team let City back into the match, having taken the early lead through marquee man Gary Hooper.

City responded by scoring twice inside four first half minutes, Connor Metcalfe beating two defenders to a Craig Noone cross and Scott Galloway cutting in from right-back and scoring a spectacular long-range goal, before Noone converted the second half penalty as a result of the handball howler.

“One we didn’t deal with the cross and they scored with a header at the back post or just before the back post, and one was a shot from distance from Scott Galloway so we needed to put pressure on that ball carrier at that time, just to step out.”

“They had a lot of possession but I thought we were compact and good in our two banks of four with our two No. 9s as well but it’s just one of those games where we let them back into the game and we came into the half at 2-1 leading.”

“The gameplan was to come here and grab three points.”

Talay sprung a surprise by starting Hooper, giving the former Celtic and Norwich City striker 45 minutes before replacing him with Jaushua Sotirio. Reno Piscopo was also handed a first start but he too was subbed at the break.

“We’ll get him match fit by playing minutes in the games and he did his job, he played for 45 minutes and scored his goal so we’ll continue to build him up.”

Ben Waine pulled one goal back for the Phoenix in stoppage time, becoming the club’s youngest-ever goal-scorer. 

“When you watch a game there’s a lot of things you can fix, especially at halftime but there’s a couple of main things you look to fix because you can’t fix everything in the game. But for us the main thing is we’re getting in the right areas, we are creating opportunities. The [problem] is putting it in the back of the net and being defensively strong so we don’t concede goals.”

The Phoenix will return to Melbourne to play Victory at AAMI Park on Sunday. Anything short of a win will consign the club to their worst ever A-League start, having already equalled the unwanted record of four consecutive losses set during the 2016-17 season.