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Phoenix left fuming after VAR farce opens door for Bulls draw

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It's been a brilliant start to the A-League season - some pulsating games, a few incredible goals, a new generation of talented youngsters making their names, and not even a single VAR controversy to bring the mood down. Until now.

Markel Susaeta of the Bulls is tackled by Joshua Laws of the Phoenix during the A-League match between Macarthur FC Bulls and Wellington Phoenix at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, January 9, 2021.

Markel Susaeta of the Bulls is tackled by Joshua Laws of the Phoenix during the A-League match between Macarthur FC Bulls and Wellington Phoenix at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, January 9, 2021.

Granted, it's a crowded field, but there could be a new clubhouse leader for the most precious VAR call the competition has seen. It cost Wellington Phoenix dearly, knocking them off course from what would have been a deserved victory over Macarthur FC on Saturday.

The Phoenix were all over the Bulls, having taken the lead in the 39th minute through David Ball, and around 20 minutes into the second half they were doing it relatively easy.

At that point, Alex Rufer tried to dispossess Denis Genreau as the Olyroo looked to power the Bulls forward from midfield.

It looked a totally innocuous challenge, with Rufer's lunge spilling the ball free and Genreau treading on his foot in the process, entirely by accident. As Genreau moved on, he was clipped and brought down by the right boot of Rufer, who was prone on the ground, his eyes closed and his head backwards. Again, it looked like a total accident.

But as Genreau received treatment - he would play out the match - the VAR, Kris Griffiths-Jones, beckoned referee Stephen Lucas over to the sideline screen.

After repeat viewings, Lucas returned to the field to show Rufer a red card for kicking out at Genreau - to the disbelief of the player, the Phoenix, and pretty much every person on social media who was watching and could find nothing even remotely deserving of such action.

It changed the game. Four minutes later, the Bulls pulled level when their star Spanish imports Benat Extebarria and Markel Susaeta combined to perfection, as the latter's lobbed pass set up the former for a close-range shot that Stefan Marinovic will be disappointed he let in at his near post.

Macarthur couldn't find another goal and it finished 1-1, but Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay was left fuming. Before his side was reduced to 10 men, they were in full control on a glorious afternoon at Campbelltown Stadium.

Much like their home loss to Central Coast Mariners last weekend, the pieces just weren't fitting together for the Bulls, despite coach Ante Milicic fielding an ominous side, giving Benat his first start and fringe Socceroo James Meredith and dynamic rookie Lachlan Rose also recalled from the bench.

The Phoenix, too, fielded their strongest possible team, with former Brighton & Hove Albion striker Tomer Hemed and skipper Ulises Davila promoted after coming off the bench in their 2-1 defeat to Sydney FC.

Wellington was utterly dominant, owning possession, winning the ball back with ease, and putting together some lovely, searching passages of play before their deserved breakthrough came six minutes from the break.

It was quick and clinical. After the hosts coughed up the ball, Davila split their defence open with a pinpoint through pass that put left-back James McGarry into space.

McGarry's cutback found the feet of Ball, who in turn swept it home with his left past a helpless Adam Federici.

The Bulls, naturally, improved after Wellington were reduced to 10 men and rallied hard for a winner that never came. They should be happy with the point; the Phoenix, on the other hand, are understandably cooking.

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