Melbourne Victory’s head coach, Kevin Muscat, has expressed his frustration over referees’ decisions to disrupt play for Nix players who appear cramped up, after his side came back from 3-1 down at half time to draw Wellington Phoenix.

Players from Wellington Phoenix were showing signs of fatigue right after Troisi bagged Victory’s second of the evening, bringing the score to 3-2. While only the Nix players and the training staff aware of the true extent of their cramps, a combination of poor fitness and/or stalling techniques failed to help them see through their one goal lead to the final whistle, as Barbarouses netted a late equaliser.

Image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

“As a code, we have got to stop this (form of) getting treatment for players who are getting cramps, I don’t see it anywhere else,” said Muscat.

“If you gain an advantage because you’re more physical over a team, it shouldn’t be taken away from you by the referee.

“That goes for my players, and also for anybody in the competition.”

David Williams was the first to feel the intensive effects of the 5PM fixture, with Louis Fenton and Mandi Sosa pulling up a few times as the game grew on. The 18,136 strong home crowd remained unconvinced by the Nix’s injury, and were not shy of expressing their frustration the moment a Nix player requested for on field treatment.

Image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

“I think for entertainment value we would have been more entertaining tonight if the advantages were not being taken away from us,” Muscat remarked.

“I’m beyond frustrated, I just don’t think it’s good for our game … if you create an overload of numbers in an area of the park, if we can outrun a team, if you create an advantage, you reap the rewards.

“I don’t understand why the advantage gets taken away from you. We would’ve been more entertaining. I don’t see it happening anywhere else.”

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Rudan: There’s still more work to be done

The throng of vocal Nix supporters will certainly be the happier set of fans, having maintained their record nine match unbeaten streak. Phoenix’s head coach Mark Rudan has encouraged the New Zealand outfit to “keep going”, despite already exceeding many A-League fans’ expectations.

“We’ve grown hugely from where we were last year but we need to continue to do the things that got us to that position in the first half (against Victory), irrespective if we’re at home or away – that’s key to work on after this game,” Rudan said in the post match press conference.

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“Our interest in the first 10-15 minutes certainly wasn’t to drop off Victory, it was actually the opposite … and we didn’t do it.

“It was quite tough to take, particularly after being up 3-1, so there are a lot to work on, a lot to improve, still. We’re nowhere where we need to be, and that showed in the second 45 minutes.”

Instead of peeling away from the lower rungs of the ladder like many would have expected, the Nix find themselves safely within the “big six”, and are just six points away from the top three.

“The job’s only halfway done in terms of this season … I feel that little things have changed for the better, but there’s still more work to be done,” Rudan said.

When pressed on being title contenders, Rudan immediately played down his side’s chances, explaining it is a “constant process” and he considered his side’s games a “day to day proposition”.

“Where we finish, I don’t know, but I certainly don’t put a ceiling on where this club can go. Right now the full focus is making sure our players are fully recovered and we are prepared against Sydney FC as that’s going be the most important game as far as we’re concerned,” Rudan remarked.

Image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

Wellington Phoenix’s next three games will see them face Sydney FC, Melbourne City, and Perth Glory. The Nix has certainly shown in the first half that they are more than capable of taking the fight up to the big sides.

But they need to display the unwavering grit and resilience in the comeback extravaganzas against Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast early in the year, to see their unbeaten streak roll onto double digits.

Feature image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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Journalism undergrad at Monash University, Kai is a multimedia journalist covering Melbourne Victory. Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. Once "stole" Shinji Kagawa's plane ticket.