The Wellington Phoenix have slumped to a third straight defeat in the Isuzu UTE A-League, damaging their chances of hosting a finals match next month.
The Phoenix have been beaten 4-1 by Melbourne City at AAMI Park in Melbourne, extending Wellington’s winless run at the venue.
The result leaves the Nix fifth on the ladder, four points adrift of the top four with just three rounds remaining.
Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay is disappointed to be leaving AAMI Park empty-handed.
“We made it a little bit more difficult for ourselves by not picking up points today,” Talay told media post-game.
“We still have three games to go with nine points to play for. The only thing now is we have to hope that the teams above us lose games and we win our games to go above them.
“We’ll still try. We’ll still definitely have a go. We’ve just got to make sure we pick ourselves up and we’ll go again.”
City ran away with the three points after an evenly contested 50 minutes, with the Nix forced to play the final half an hour with just 10 men after centre back Josh Laws was shown a straight red card.
Talay: ‘They were clinical, we weren’t’
“I thought we were quite comfortable,” Talay said. “When we went one nil down I don’t think we defended our box well, but overall I thought we still played some good football.
“We played straight through them and created some good opportunities.
“I thought we had a great opportunity at the start of the game to score and go up, and then even at 3-1 we had a fantastic opportunity again to get ourselves back into the game to get to 3-2.
“They were clinical, we weren’t, and this is the outcome.”
He refused to blame the tired-looking pitch, which had hosted two other A-League games, a Super Rugby match and an NRL game in the preceding five days.
“The surface is the surface at the end of the day. It was green, it had grass on it [and] the opposition had to deal with it, so it is what it is.”
Two changes to starting line-up
Ufuk Talay made two changes to the XI which started the 2-1 defeat to Melbourne Victory, with Callan Elliot and David Ball replacing Scott Wootton and Kosta Barbarouses. One of the changes was forced with Wootton ruled out with a calf injury.
Oskar Zawada had a great opportunity to give the Phoenix the lead just three minutes into the contest, when Ball slipped the Polish striker through on goal. But Zawada sent his left-footed shot wide of Thomas Glover’s right-hand post.
City had more of the ball in the opening 20 minutes and Tim Payne had to produce some desperate last-ditch defending to block a goal-bound shot from Jamie Maclaren in the 16th minute.
But that was the closest the league leaders came to threatening Wellington’s goal in the first half an hour.
In contrast, Glover was kept busy. He produced a fine point blank save to deny Nix captain Alex Rufer in the 26th minute before doing well to keep out a Zawada free-kick from 20 yards out shortly after.
Oli Sail was called into action in the 31st minute, doing well to keep out a powerful long-range shot from City midfielder Aiden O’Neill.
Moments later Sail was picking out the ball from the back of his own net when Jamie Maclaren snapped his mini-goal drought. The Socceroos striker picked out the bottom left-hand corner of Sail’s goal after some clever interplay with his team-mates in and around the Phoenix box.
The Nix responded well to going behind and were the better team for the remainder of the first half. But they were unable to test Glover before halftime.
Wellington thought they should have been awarded a spot kick in first half stoppage time when Zawada was clattered into by Curtis Good in the City box, but their penalty claims were waved away.
The second half started in equally eventful fashion. Sail did well to prevent the hosts’ doubling their lead in the 48th minute, keeping big at his near post to deny Marco Tilio one-on-one.
A minute later the Phoenix were rewarded for their endeavour when Steven Ugarkovic scored his first goal for the club, basting a shot in off a City defender and into the back of the net.
Main photo: Steven Ugarkovic is congratulated by his teammates after levelling the score.
Maclaren took just three minutes to restore the league leaders’ lead, tucking a shot inside the back post as City caught the Nix on the counter.
Andrew Nabbout was unlucky not to score their third in the 55th minute, with Callan Elliot throwing his body at Nabbout’s shot after he’d beaten Sail.
Marco Tilio made it 3-1 moments later when he curled a left-footed shot into the far corner of Wellington’s goal, after they again caught the visitors in transition.
Phoenix reduced to 10 men
Talay responded to going two goals behind by making a double-change, bringing on Clayton Lewis and Kosta Barbarouses in place of Rufer and Bozhidar Kraev.
Barbarouses had a gilt-edged opportunity to pull a goal back for the Phoenix in the 64th when he got in behind the City defence. But he was denied by Glover, who came off his line quickly to cut down the angle of the All Whites forward’s shot.
The match was over as a contest just seconds later when Laws was sent off for accidentally catching Nabbout with a high boot.
Yan Sasse was sacrificed to allow the Nix to bring on replacement centre back Nikko Boxall in just his second outing for the club.
Sail produced a sharp save to deny Tilio his second in the 69th minute, but the City forward could not be denied seven minutes from fulltime when he completed the scoring with a tap-in at the back post.
Nicholas Pennington and Oskar van Hattum were brought off the Wellington bench in the closing stages but they struggled to make an impact while playing with a man down.
The Wellington Phoenix return to the capital on Tuesday before turning their attentions to their final home match of the regular season against Brisbane Roar at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday afternoon.
Game played on Monday April 10, 2023
Melbourne City 4 (Jamie Maclaren 34′, 52′, Marco Tilio 57′, 83′)
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Steven Ugarkovic 49′)
1. Thomas GLOVER (gk), 6. Thomas LAM, 9. Jamie MACLAREN (c), 10. Florin BERENGUER (37. Max CAPUTO 85th), 13. Aiden O’NEILL, 14. Valon BERISHA (2. Scott GALLOWAY 78th), 15. Andrew NABBOUT (35. Raphael BORGES RODRIGUES 82nd), 22. Curtis GOOD (4. Nuno REIS 46th), 23. Marco TILIO, 25. Callum TALBOT, 38. Jordan BOS
Unused substitutes: 33. Matthew SUTTON (gk), 18. Jordon HALL, 36. Kerrin STOKES.
20. Oli SAIL (gk), 5. Steven UGARKOVIC (13. Nicholas PENNINGTON 85th), 6. Tim PAYNE, 9. Oskar ZAWADA (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 85th), 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (7. Kosta BARBAROUSES 58th), 14. Alex RUFER (c) (23. Clayton LEWIS 58th), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 19. Sam SUTTON, 21. Josh LAWS, 31. Yan SASSE (15. Nikko BOXALL 67th).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 12. Lucas MAURAGIS.
21. Josh LAWS (Wellington Phoenix) – red – 65th
25. Callum TALBOT (Melbourne City) – yellow – 70th
10. David BALL (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 90th