Wellington Phoenix put in an excellent second-half performance in front of over 10,000 fans at Westpac Stadium, but were unfortunate not come away with a point in a 1-0 loss to Melbourne City on Saturday night.
After a less than impressive first half from the home side, it was City that went into the break with the lead thanks to an Anthony Caceres goal.
Changes in midfield at the interval allowed Phoenix to take control in the second period and they had a number of chances to score, particularly after goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen was sent off for a handball that denied Roy Krishna a certain goal.
Wellington just couldn’t finish their good moves late on, but the second half performance will give the team confidence going into the long trip to Perth Glory next week.
A bumper crowd of 10,034 was on hand to watch Phoenix star recruits Marco Rossi and Gui Finkler.
The front three and the midfield pressed City aggressively early on and forced their opponents into a number of errors.
Melbourne were dangerous when they get forward and Glen Moss produced a fine save to deny a Fernando Brendan header in the opening quarter hour.
Midway through the first half the All Whites international pulled off a marvelous stop at the back post as Bruno Fornaroli’s header seemed destined for goal.
Despite Phoenix starting to get on top of their opponents on the half hour it was City that took the lead, after a through ball left Caceres in the clear. He got around Moss before stabbing in the opener.
Wellington had a spring in their step after the interval with Krishna’s pace causing constant havoc in the City defence. Approaching the hour mark he was played through and as the Fijian went past Sorensen, the Danish goalkeeper handballed and was given a straight red card.
Phoenix started to take advantage of the extra man from then on with Finkler and Krishna combining on 64 minutes. The striker had his low, near-post shot saved by substitute goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis.
The home side was piling on the pressure and it was only desperate Melbourne defending and inspirational goalkeeping that was keeping Wellington at bay.
Second-half substitutes Alex Rufer and Logan Rogerson were making a real difference and it was Rogerson who came agonisingly close to scoring the equaliser in the dying stages, but he came just short of connecting with Krishna’s dangerous cross.
Head Coach Ernie Merrick was disappointed with the result, yet pleased with certain aspects of the game, particularly the second-half performance.
“We were overrun in midfield and I don’t think we really got a hold of midfield and kept possession in the first half. At half-time we put another defensive midfielder alongside Vince [Lia] and that settled things down there as Vince had another partner to work with,” Merrick said.
“After the send off we had more than enough changes to get an equaliser, we just couldn’t do it. I thought we were unlucky not get an equaliser
“Overall I thought our backline, that was inexperienced, did a good job. And I thought all the players that we brought on, especially the youngsters Alex Rufer and Logan Rogerson did a good job, but we let ourselves down there at the end by not cashing in one of those crosses.”
The Phoenix Head Coach also felt that his side may have been better off had Krishna been allowed to score in the send off incident with Sorensen.
“I think if we had scored the goal we would have gone on with it and when they went down to 10 men, we should have taken more advantage of that, but I just lacked an experienced player who know where the goal is,” Merrick said.