The Wellington Phoenix had three players sent off and the Newcastle Jets one after an A-League "friendly" erupted into an all-in brawl which cleared both benches at Weston near Newcastle last night.
Phoenix pair Manny Muscat and Ben Sigmund, and the Jets' Brazilian defender Tiago were shown red cards after a fight broke out in front of the Newcastle dugout in the 25th minute. Players and support staff from both teams converged. Punches were thrown, players were tackled to the ground and others had to be restrained by teammates. It took rookie referee Tim McGilchrist five minutes to restore order.
Both coaches were summoned on to the field as support staff continued to exchange barbs. The red cards did little to tame tempers and Phoenix were reduced to eight men in the 63rd minute when captain Andrew Durante lashed out at Jets midfielder James Brown, who was on the ground.
The ugly incident came less than a week after Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers supporters clashed on a hill at a trial match in Campbelltown in which a young boy was injured. Football Federation Australia sanctioned last night's match, which the Jets won 3-1.
Red cards carry an automatic two-game suspension, but with FFA certain to investigate the matter, further sanctions are possible.
The Phoenix fly to India today, where they will play four games.
Jets coach Gary van Egmond attributed the incident to players competing for spots.
"You are not making excuses, but that is the eagerness of the players," he said. "They have players looking to gain a contract and fighting for positions in the squad.
"We are in the same boat. We have a number of players wanting to get into the first 11. It was a bit difficult for the referee as well."