The Wellington Phoenix have been left to rue a lack of execution in front of goal in their first match of 2023.
The Phoenix have been beaten 3-1 by top of the table Melbourne City in their 10th round Isuzu UTE A-League match at Sky Stadium in Wellington, despite having the better of much of the contest.
The Nix had 20 shots to City’s 13, but weren’t able to find a way past Thomas Glover in the visitors’ goal after David Ball gave Wellington the lead quarter of an hour into the match.
Matthew Leckie drew City level little over a minute after Ball’s opener and it remained 1-1 until early in the second-half, when Leckie’s Socceroos team-mate Jamie Maclaren converted his sixth penalty of the side.
Maclaren scored his second goal deep into stoppage time to secure the competition leaders their seventh win from nine matches.
The defeat leaves the Phoenix ninth on a congested ladder, where just three points separates fourth from 10th.
Head coach Ufuk Talay cut a frustrated figure after the match.
“Frustrated because this is not a 3-1 game,” Talay told media post-game. “But at the end it finishes 3-1 because they are a lot more clinical than us.”
“I think we played well. We started the game off well, we had some good opportunities in the first-half where we should have capitalised.
“In the second-half in my opinion that was a very soft penalty given by the referee, which I think changed the game a little bit.
“We had to change what we were doing because we need to pick up points at home. We changed things and then we were a lot more positive.
“I think we created enough chances to win two games today. We weren’t clinical and they were.”
Oskar Zawada, goal scorer in three of Wellington’s past four games, had a number of gilt-edged opportunities, but wasn’t able to find the back of the net.
Talay doubts it will dent the Polish striker’s self-belief.
“He shouldn’t lack confidence. He scored the week before in Perth.
“The good thing is he’s in the right areas he’s just got to make sure that we put the ball in the back of the net.
“We had some good deliveries today from the fullbacks, which was great, we created some good goalscoring opportunities [but] just a lack of hitting the target at times.”
Ufuk Talay made one change to the XI which started the men’s last match against Perth before Christmas, with Tim Payne returning from a stomach bug to replace Josh Laws at centre back. Fit-again forward Oskar van Hattum was named on the bench alongside Noah Karunaratne, who was promoted from the reserves.
Wellington and Melbourne City came closest to scoring from headers in the opening 10 minutes.
Zawada looped a header narrowly wide of the City goal after being found by fullback Callan Elliot, while Melbourne centre back Thomas Lam nodded over the bar from a corner.
Ball produced a clever flick to put the Nix in front in the 16th minute. Elliot again found some space down the right flank, cut the ball into the box and found Ball, who cleverly found the far corner of the visitors’ goal.
City equalised little over 60 seconds later when a couple of their Socceroos combined. Leckie nodded a Marco Tilio cross past Oli Sail after Melbourne had struck his post moments earlier.
Zawada had a couple of great chances to restore Wellington’s lead before halftime.
He headed wide from six yards out shortly after the half hour mark and then scuffed his shot in the 43rd minute after Glover slipped in his box and coughed up possession.
Zawada found the back of the net in first-half stoppage time, but the goal was rightly ruled out for offside.
The visitors took the lead six minutes into the second-half when Maclaren beat Sail from the spot after Tilio won a penalty.
Talay made an attacking change after going behind, bringing on All Whites forward Kosta Barbarouses in place of midfielder Steven Ugarkovic.
The Phoenix dominated the remainder of the match, but the competition leaders produced some great last-ditch defending to ensure Glover wasn’t beaten a second time.
Zawada again had opportunities. He headed narrowly wide in the 66th minute and nodded an Elliot cross straight at the City ‘keeper six minutes from fulltime.
Barbarouses came closest to equalising. He smashed the underside of the crossbar in the 82nd minute and unfortunately for him and the Nix the ball spun away from goal.
Van Hattum forced a sharp save from Glover in stoppage time and then as the Nix poured numbers forward Maclaren struck on the counter-attack, linking up with substitute Andrew Nabbout to score City’s third and seal the three points.
The Wellington Phoenix men have little time to dwell on the defeat. They’re back in action on Saturday evening when they will visit Sydney FC.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC (7. Kosta BARBAROUSES 52nd), 6. Tim PAYNE, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 17. Callan ELLIOT (13. Nicholas PENNINGTON 88th), 23. Clayton LEWIS, 31. Yan SASSE (24. Oskar VAN HATTUM 88th).
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 14. Alex RUFER, 21. Joshua LAWS, 35. Noah KARUNARATNE.
Melbourne City: 1. Thomas GLOVER (gk), 6. Thomas LAM, 7. Matthew LECKIE, 8. Richard VAN DER VENNE (3. Scott JAMIESON 85th), 9. Jamie MACLAREN (c), 13. Aiden O’NEILL, 14. Valon BERISHA, 22. Curtis GOOD (4. Nuno REIS 46th), 23. Marco TILIO (15. Andrew NABBOUT 67th), 25. Callum TALBOT (2. Scott GALLOWAY 67th), 38. Jordan BOS.
Unused substitutes: 33. Matthew SUTTON (gk), 16. Taras GOMULKA, 35. Raphael BORGES RODRIGUES.
10. David BALL (Wellington Phoenix) – 16th
7. Matthew LECKIE (Melbourne City) – 18th
9. Jamie MACLAREN (Melbourne City) – 51st pen
9. Jamie MACLAREN (Melbourne City) – 90+6
38. Jordan BOS (Melbourne City) – yellow – 6th
22. Curtis GOOD (Melbourne City) – yellow – 22nd
5. Steven UGARKOVIC (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 28th
8. Richard VAN DER VENNE (Melbourne City) – yellow – 70th