A compact Western Sydney have punished Wellington on the counter, with a Brendon Santalab brace the difference at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday evening.
A contestable red card to Shane Smeltz has ensured no way back for Wellington Phoenix in a disappointing end to their first regular season visit to Taranaki.
Having just handed the Nix a glimmer of hope from the penalty spot the veteran striker was given his marching orders following a second yellow.
The game had started brightly for Phoenix with New Plymouth fans quickly into the game as Alex Rodriguez was brought down just outside the box – but Roly Bonevacia’s driven effort was held well by Vedran Janjetovic.
Kosta Barbarouses then got hearts fluttering among those in red and black, as he jinked past Jack Clisby and whipped in a dangerous cross, but the Wanderers defence scrambled to intercept.
In a frenetic opening fifteen minutes, Nico Martinez then whipped in a dangerous freekick of his own that just cleared Glen Moss’s crossbar, before Brendan Santalab thought he’d opened the scoring – only to be denied by the linesman’s flag.
He went one better in the 22nd minute when on the counter attack the polarising No.9 found himself open inside the box and his stroked effort frustratingly evaded Moss’s outstretched arm to open the scoring.
It was Janjetovic’s turn to be tested four minutes later as Jacob Tratt’s tantalising cross was tipped at full-stretch by the former Sydney FC custodian, away from an in-rushing Roy Krishna.
A remarkable goal-line falcon from a Wanderers defender then ensured parity was not restored after a vicious freekick and then Phoenix shot were repelled in quick succession.
A packed stand then went euphoric just before half-time only to discover that Barbarouses’ shot had rippled the outside of the net, before Rodriguez’s driven shot was deflected behind for a corner as Wellington finished the first half on top.
Phoenix continued to probe in the second half as Western Sydney became increasingly content to defend in numbers – Robert Cornwaite used his considerable height advantage to clear a header from an in-rushing Barbarouses, before Shane Smeltz drew a sharp save from Janjetovic with a shot on the turn.
The two Phoenix players combined in the 55th minute as Barbarouses picked out the league’s third highest all-time goalscorer, who’s headed effort looped agonisingly over.
But just as Wellington seemed most dominant Wanderers sprung a rare counter attack with Santalab turning provider for Martinez to score just his third A-League goal.
It went from bad to worse in the 65th minute as a turnover gifted Wanderers possession inside the box, with Santalab firing home to give Moss no chance.
In the 70th minute, Wellington found a glimmer of hope after a dangerous cutback from Gui Finkler was handled in the box, enabling Smeltz to thump home his first A-League goal since his return from the spot.
A brilliant save from Janjetovic then denied Barbarouses a second, after the wide forward jinked past two before shooting from an acute angle.
But it was the decision to send off Smeltz that took the wind from Wellington’s sails, with Wanderers running out the last few moments in relative comfort against the ten men Phoenix.
At the post-game presser Head Coach Des Buckingham was circumspect in defeat.
“We had good spells in the game where we controlled a lot of the possession but we never looked really effective with it. Western Sydney scored with their first attack of the game and went one-nil up.”
“I thought the yellow cards were very harsh, I thought there was a standard set in the first five minutes where’s he’s booked Andrew Durante for a header.
We’ve had a player sent off and we’ve had four yellow cards, and we’ve committed fifteen fouls – in a game that watching from the sidelines, wasn’t that kind of game.”
“I think it’s important we don’t get carried away – it’s a three-one loss. We never got carried away after the 3-0 win over the Melbourne Victory, we’ve had a steady run – it’s been baby steps since [Chris and I] took over.”
“Tonight’s a hurdle – we need to make sure we pick up points from the last nine games.”