Wellington Phoenix could not start the post-Ricki Herbert era in a winning fashion, going down 2-1 to the Newcastle Jets in Wellington on Wednesday night.
The rearranged fixture, brought forward from March because of a clash with New Zealand’s World Cup qualifiers, came just a day after Herbert’s resignation had shocked his players.
And any hopes Wellington had of reigniting their Hyundai A-League playoff chances under caretaker coach Chris Greenacre, who is in charge until the end of the season, were all but snuffed out by half-time.
They trailed 2-0 by that stage after two poor pieces of defending allowed Adam Taggart to score his maiden goal for the Jets and Michael Bridges to nod home his first of the season.
A poacher’s goal from Jeremy Brockie midway through the second half gave Wellington a glimmer of hope and the striker could have got his side a share of the spoils in the dying minutes only to fire wide.
The win ended the Jets’ nine-game winless streak in the New Zealand capital which stretched back to 2007 and lifted them above the Melbourne Heart into fifth on the ladder.
Before the match, Yellow Fever fans unfurled a banner proclaiming ‘Sir Ricki’ in recognition of the former coach who had led the team for more than 150 games since their inception in 2007.
And the Phoenix started brightly with a couple of half-chances, the best of which came in the seventh minute when Paul Ifill’s cross into the box slid just beyond the reach of Brockie.
Ifill got far more touches on the ball with most of the Phoenix’s attack coming down his left flank.
Louis Fenton was as industrious as ever but it was the Jets who started to take control of the game.
The visitors should have been a goal up in the 15th minute only for Emile Heskey to miss an absolute sitter.
Bridges’ well-judged ball sliced through the Phoenix defence and Heskey simply had to place the ball past Glen Moss but instead skewed it wide to the delight of the crowd.
But they were silenced four minutes later when Josh Brillante whipped in a low cross from the right and the unmarked Taggart side-footed it low past Moss to open the scoring.
Bridges was denied by Tony Lochhead in the 32nd minute, then set up another Heskey effort a few minutes later.
The striker put the Englishman through on goal but a well-timed tackle by Ben Sigmund stopped him getting his shot away.
Zenon Caravella, who had been booked earlier in the match, limped off in the 39th minute to be replaced by Andrew Hoole.
Then Wellington’s poor defending at the set-piece came back to haunt them a minute from half-time.
Ifill conceded a free-kick just outside the area and joined Caravella and Brockie in getting first-half yellow cards.
Goodwin whipped the ball into the box and Bridges’ diving header left Moss rooted to the spot.
As they had done against Adelaide last weekend, the Phoenix came out with greater intensity after the break and spent longer periods in the Jets’ half.
The pressure eventually brought some reward thanks to the tenacity of Corey Gameiro who intercepted a poor Taylor Regan back pass.
He found Fenton whose shot flew off the head of goalkeeper Mark Birighitti and Brockie pounced to put the rebound away with 30 minutes to go.
At the other end Moss pulled off a couple of superb saves to deny Goodwin and Mitch Cooper, who had replaced Bridges.
It gave Wellington a glimmer of hope which would have turned into a precious point had Brockie been able to find the target for a second time.
There were a flurry of yellow cards in the closing stages. Heskey had been booked shortly after half-time and Gameiro, Manny Muscat, Hoole and Birighitti were all shown yellow in the final 10 minutes.
Wellington 1 (Brockie 60)
Newcastle 2 (Taggart 19, Bridges 44)
Crowd: 4025 @ Westpac Stadium