The Wellington Phoenix’s finals fate will be decided on the final day of the 2022-23 Isuzu UTE A-League regular season, after a fourth defeat in five matches.
The Phoenix have slipped to sixth on the ladder after a lacklustre showing in the opening match of the penultimate round.
The Nix have been beaten 4-0 by Western Sydney Wanderers at CommBank Stadium in Sydney, having trailed 2-0 at halftime.
It is the first time Wellington have been kept scoreless this season and result means they drop behind Sydney FC on goal differential.
The Phoenix are likely going to need to get a result against Macarthur FC at Campbelltown next Saturday to secure a berth in the top six.
Head coach Ufuk Talay was disappointed with his team’s performance, particularly in the first-half.
“To be honest it was a game where it was men vs boys,” Talay told media post-game. “That’s what it looked like from the sideline.
“We didn’t win any of the second balls that dropped into midfield, we didn’t defend the space well, we didn’t defend one vs one well and conceded a very sloppy or easy goal again, which obviously made it a lot more difficult.
“It’s not what we want at this stage of the season when we’re fighting to get into the top six.
“We’ve got one more game to go [and] we haven’t given up. We’ll go all the way and try to get ourselves back into the mix.”
Talay won’t dwell on the defeat and is quickly turning his attention to the final round match against Macarthur.
“This is done now. We’ll focus on what we need to improve on during the week and how we can make it better.
“We lacked a bit of quality in the front third as well to be able to score goals so it’s both sides we need to improve on.
“This is done and dusted. We’ve got another game to go where there are three points up for grabs and we’ll focus on that.”
Ufuk Talay made two changes to the XI which started the 2-2 draw with Brisbane Roar on Sunday, with Bozhidar Kraev and Callan Elliot returning in place of Kosta Barbarouses and Nikko Boxall. Tim Payne shifted into centre back alongside Scott Wootton.
After a cagey opening couple of minutes, Western Sydney took command.
Tunisian winger Amor Layouni was a constant threat down the right wing in the first half he and came close to opening the scoring in the third minute when he looked to chip Oli Sail from the edge of the box.
David Ball had the Nix’s first shot of the match shortly after but he wasn’t able to direct a looping header on goal.
Wellington found themselves a goal down in the ninth minute when Wanderers playmaker Milos Ninkovic took advantage of some timid defending, drew in Sail and picked out inform forward Brandon Borrello, who stroked his shot into an empty net from seven yards out.
Western Sydney continued to threaten the Phoenix goal for the next 20 minutes, with Layouni a constant menace. An off target shot from Yan Sasse was all the Nix had to show for their efforts.
The Wanderers doubled their lead shortly after the half hour mark when young midfielder Calem Nieuwenhof pounced on a Wellington mistake, played a one-two with Borrello and then curled a shot around Sail.
Sail kept the Phoenix in the game in the first half. He produced a sharp reflex save to deny Borrello his second in the 34th minute and half a dozen minutes later kept big to keep out a shot from fullback Aidan Simmons.
In contrast, Lawrence Thomas was untested in Western Sydney’s goal in the first half. Ball came closest to testing Thomas, heading a left-wing free-kick narrowly off target, while Kraev was unable to register a strike on goal from six yards out.
Nieuwenhof came close to making it three-nil on the stroke of halftime, pulling a shot narrowly wide of the far post after a mazy run into the Nix box.
Talay responded to the disappointing first half showing by making a change early in the second half, bringing on Barbarouses in place of Kraev.
Wellington played with more intensity after the break and limited Wanderers’ chances without creating goalscoring opportunities of their own.
Simmons snuffed out any hopes of a Phoenix comeback in the 65th minute when he got in behind the back four, rounded Sail and then calmly slotted a shot past three defenders.
Substitute Yeni Ngbakoto should have made it four-nil to Western Sydney five minutes later, but he didn’t get enough elevation on his attempted chip from the edge of the area and Sail was able to claw his shot away.
Shortly after Sail’s save, the Nix had their first shot on target, with Thomas having to produce a sharp save to deny Steven Ugarkovic’s first-time shot.
Wanderers’ goalkeeper also made two comfortable saves to keep out a header and a right-footed shot from Oskar Zawada, who was kept relatively quiet throughout the 90 minutes.
Kusini Yengi scored Western Sydney’s fourth three minutes from fulltime, with the substitute forward slipping a first-time shot in between an unfortunate Oli Sail.
The Wellington Phoenix will return to the capital on Saturday to prepare for their final round match against Macarthur FC next weekend.
Wellington Phoenix: 20. Oli SAIL (gk) (c), 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC (13. Nicholas PENNINGTON 79th), 6. Tim PAYNE (21. Josh LAWS 72nd), 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV (7. Kosta BARBAROUSES 52nd), 17. Callan ELLIOT, 19. Sam SUTTON (12. Lucas MAURAGIS 72nd), 23. Clayton LEWIS (14. Alex RUFER 72nd), 31. Yan SASSE.
Unused substitutes: 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM.
Western Sydney Wanderers: 20. Lawrence THOMAS (gk), 3. Adam TRAORE, 4. Morgan SCHNEIDERLIN, 5. Tomislav MRCELA, 6. MARCELO (c), 10. Milos NINKOVIC (9. Kusini YENGI 74th), 11. Amor LAYOUNI (23. Yeni NGBAKOTO 61st), 17. Romain AMALFITANO (14. Nicolas MILANOVIC 74th), 26. Brandon BORRELLO, 28. Calem NIEUWENHOF, 31. Aidan SIMMONS.
Unused substitutes: 1. Daniel MARGUSH (gk), 2. Gabriel CLEUR, 8. Oliver BOZANIC, 16. Thomas BEADLING.
26. Brandon BORRELLO (Western Sydney Wanderers) – 9th
28. Calem NIEUWENHOF (Western Sydney Wanderers) – 31st
31. Aidan SIMMONS (Western Sydney Wanderers) – 65th
9. Kusini YENGI (Western Sydney Wanderers) – 87th
6. Tim PAYNE (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 69th
17. Callan ELLIOT (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 77th
14. Alex RUFER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 86th