The Wellington Phoenix have fallen to a disappointing home defeat, denting their chances of returning to the capital in the Isuzu UTE A-League finals.
The Phoenix have given up a 1-nil halftime lead to lose 2-1 to the bottom of the table Melbourne Victory at Sky Stadium in Wellington.
Oskar Zawada scored his 13th goal of the season midway through the first half to celebrate the birth of his son Leo and put the Nix in front.
Victory goalkeeper Paul Izzo made a couple of sublime saves early in the second-half to keep the visitors in the game, before prolific striker Bruno Fornaroli drew them level from a corner.
French defender Damien Da Silva then scored the match-winner for Victory from another corner 15 minutes from fulltime.
The result leaves Wellington fifth on the ladder, missing the opportunity to draw level on points with third placed Western Sydney Wanderers.
“It’s a disappointing three points that we’ve lost,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media post-game.
“We gave them two goals from our poor defensive set-up and not being aggressive enough with two set pieces.
“I thought we were quite comfortable in the first half. We got our goal and then in the second half they scored two goals from set pieces.
“We didn’t create as much as we would have liked in the first half, but we had a couple of good opportunities in the second half where Paul has made some fine saves for them and we’ve walked away empty-handed.”
Talay still believes the Nix can secure a top four finish and with it a home finals game.
“We believe we’re a good team [and] we believe we can push again.
“There are 12 points up for grabs and we’ve got to do our best to try to get all the points.
“Is it going to be difficult? Definitely against the opponents that we will play.”
Ufuk Talay made three changes to the XI which started the 5-1 defeat to Adelaide United before the international break, with Zawada, Sam Sutton and Josh Laws returning to the side.
He tweaked his formation at the start of the match with Laws playing in a back three alongside Scott Wootton and Tim Payne, while Sutton pushed into the midfield.
It was a relatively sedate start to the match, with few goalscoring opportunities for either side in the opening 20 minutes.
Zawada gave the Phoenix the lead a handful of minutes later when he pounced on an error from Da Silva and calmly slotted past Izzo.
Sutton came close to doubling the Nix’s lead after half an hour, when his left-footed shot fizzed just past the Victory ‘keeper’s right-hand post.
Kosta Barbarouses and Bozhidar Kraev also had shots at goal before the break, but weren’t able the trouble Izzo.
Wellington made a brighter start to the second-half, with Talay reverting to his usual formation and bringing on Callan Elliot in place of Laws. Zawada shot narrowly wide from a long-range free-kick before Izzo produced a couple of top drawer saves.
He got down sharply to his left to save Yan Sasse’s powerful left-footed shot in the 52nd minute and his second stop was even better. He got down low, again to his left, to keep out a first-time shot from Steven Ugarkovic that looked bound for the bottom corner.
The saves proved crucial with Fornaroli scoring the equaliser in the 58th minute. He was quickest to react at the back post when Da Silva flicked a header across goal.
Zawada had an opportunity with his head shortly after but he nodded wide of the Victory goal.
David Ball and Clayton Lewis were brought on midway through the second half as the Phoenix endeavoured to restore their lead, but it was the visitors who had a couple of big chances on the break.
Substitute Lleyton Brooks should have scored when he took advantage of a mistake from the Phoenix defence, but he was unable to beat the back-pedalling Oli Sail.
Victory forward Nishan Velupillay was also denied by a desperate dive from Elliot after Velupillay had dribbled into the Nix box and beaten Sail.
The four-tine champions took the lead from the resulting corner, with Da Silva managing to hook a shot around a couple of Wellington defenders and find the back of the net.
The Phoenix continued to push numbers forward in search of an equaliser but were largely limited to shots from distance against a resolute and well-organised Victory defence who held on for their first back-to-back wins of the season.
The Wellington Phoenix are back in action on Easter Monday, when they will visit competition leaders Melbourne City.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC (23. Clayton LEWIS 65th), 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (10. David BALL 65th), 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (8. Ben OLD 74th), 14. Alex RUFER (c), 19. Sam SUTTON (12. Lucas MAURAGIS 74th), 21. Joshua LAWS (17. Callan ELLIOT 50th), 31. Yan SASSE.
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM.
Melbourne Victory: 20. Paul IZZO (gk), 3. KADETE, 5. Damien DA SILVA, 6. Leigh BROXHAM (16. Stefan NIGRO 46th), 7. Chris IKONOMIDIS, 8. Josh BRILLANTE (c), 10. Bruno FORNAROLI, 11. Ben FOLAMI (24. Nishan VELUPILLAY 71st), 14. Connor CHAPMAN (4. Raimon MARCHAN 68th), 21. Roderick MIRANDA, 29. Eli ADAMS (26. Lleyton BROOKS 46th 23. Nathan KONSTANDOPOULOS 90th).
Unused substitutes: 1. Matthew ACTON (gk), 18. Bruce KAMAU.
9. Oskar ZAWADA (Wellington Phoenix) – 25th
10. Bruno FORNAROLI (Melbourne Victory) – 58th
5. Damien DA SILVA (Melbourne Victory) – 75th
14. Connor CHAPMAN (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 50th
7. Chris IKONOMIDIS (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 77th
10. Bruno FORNAROLI (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 90+1
Tony POPOVIC (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 90+5