Heavy challenge puts Wellington Phoenix midfielder Alex Rufer out for the season

- HAMISH BIDWELL

Phoenix player Alex Rufer gets shown a yellow card by referee Antony Riley after breaking his leg against Team Wellington.

Wellington Phoenix midfielder Alex Rufer is gone for the season, after suffering a serious leg break on Sunday.

The 19-year-old was the best player on the park for 80 minutes of the Phoenix Reserves' ASB Premiership derby against Team Wellington at Dave Farrington Park.

That was until he and Mario Barcia both went in strongly for a 50-50 ball in the middle of the park. Rufer immediately hopped away in pain, while Barcia seemed ready to take on all-comers as a scuffle broke out.

Rufer was eventually helped to the touchline, but not before referee Antony Riley added insult to injury by showing him a yellow card. After lying in front of the bench Rufer was eventually taken to hospital where x-rays revealed fractures to the fibula and tibia of his right leg.

He'll undergo surgery in the next day or two and won't appear for the Phoenix again this season, head coach Ernie Merrick said.

Team Wellington went on to win the match 3-2 but the match will be remembered for Rufer's injury and his collision with Barcia.

"It was a good tough tackle, but I'm surprised he got booked and not Mario," Phoenix Reserves coach Andy Hedge said.

"But there we go, the ref's obviously seen something."

Rufer was a target for strong Team Wellington tackles from the first minute. But as far as the incident that injured him, it was a case of two whole-hearted players holding nothing back in their pursuit of possession and it seems harsh that either should be shown a card.

In terms of the match score, conditions played their part. The wind made attacking the southern end far easier and Team Wellington probably ought to have been more than 2-0 up at halftime.

Ben Harris got the first, after combining well with Fergus Neil and Andy Bevin, before captain Cole Peverley hit a left-foot screamer in first-half stoppage time.

A Blake Powell penalty made it 2-1, until the 85th minute when Team Wellington defender James Musa headed home from a corner to take the score out to 3-1. Joel Stevens then scored a late consolation goal for the Phoenix, after being put one-on-one with Team Wellington goalkeeper Scott Basalaj by Sarpreet Singh.

"It was good to get the result," Team Wellington coach Matt Calcott said.

He felt players such as Peverley and Bevin had been at the forefront of a high-quality performance in which the hosts could've won by more.

For his part, Hedge felt it was one the Phoenix let get away.

"The way we played in the second half - we've hit the post three times and the crossbar once all within the space of five minutes - and I don't think they touched the ball for 15 minutes. But it's the silly mistakes that youth players will make which cost us a couple of goals and they [Team Wellington] have got the quality that will punish you when you do that," Hedge said.

 - Dominion Post