Melbourne a bridge too far for Phoenix

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC’s wretched form across the ditch has continued, the New Zealand-based club thumped 4-0 by a rampant Melbourne Victory outfit in their Hyundai A-League 2009/10 round 24 match on Tuesday night.

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC-s wretched form across the ditch has continued, the New Zealand-based club thumped 4-0 by a rampant Melbourne Victory outfit in their Hyundai A-League 2009/10 round 24 match on Tuesday night.

Coming off a disappointing 2-0 loss to Perth Glory just four days earlier, the Phoenix had travelled to Etihad Stadium hoping to get their campaign back on track. But it all came to a crushing end for the Wellingtonians as the table-topping Victory romped to a deserved win, though the final scoreline perhaps flattered the hosts.

The two most recent losses in Australia continues a string a poor results for the Phoenix on the road this season, with the club having won just twice (against the Central Coast Mariners and the Newcastle Jets). The Phoenix had previously picked up away draws against Melbourne, Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar and North Queensland Fury and would dearly have loved to have collected at least a couple of points in their last two outings.

While a win from one of the two previous matches could well have secured the Phoenix a top-six playoff spot with three regular season fixtures left, it all went pear-shaped for the visitors in 180 minutes of tough football in Perth and Melbourne.

However, other results have gone the Phoenix-s way and they remain in sixth spot, four points clear of the Mariners and with a match next up against cellar-dwellers Adelaide in Christchurch on Saturday night.

While there is plenty of cause for optimism that the Phoenix can make the playoffs for the first time in the club-s short history, the 4-0 loss to the Victory has come as a timely wake-up call for coach Ricki Herbert and his men.

“I spoke to the players straight after the match and told them that it-s down to the final line now,” Herbert said. “It-s about our strength, character and determination. We-re not a bad team because of these two results and it (making the playoffs) is in our own hands, we just need to rediscover the momentum. But questions to need to be asked and that-s exactly what will happen.”

The Phoenix went into the Etihad match with an attacking mindset, striker Chris Greenacre returning from injury to start alongside danger men Eugene Dadi and Paul Ifill. There were changes at the back for the visitors too, with injuries and suspensions forcing Herbert into a radical revamp of his midfield and back four.

Still, the Phoenix matched the opposition throughout the first half but cruelly went into the break 1-0 down after Carlos Hernandez-s free kick was tipped past keeper Liam Reddy by the head of Tim Brown.

The Victory built on their momentum in the second half, with goals to Archie Thompson in the 50th minute and Hernandez in the 66th before substitute Matthew Kemp put the cherry on top in the dying stages.

Herbert was particularly disappointed by his side-s capitulation in the second half.

“It was very poor. At halftime we were still a shot but we fell away badly in the second half. We were tired and lethargic and made some bad decisions. Against a team like Melbourne, bad decisions will cost you, and they did.”

Although Herbert was unable to play his strongest XI, he refused to put the loss down to that factor.

“When we-ve had to make changes previously it has taken time. Quite simply the guys we-ve given opportunities to haven-t taken their chances.”

Nor was he blaming the impact of the Phoenix-s gruelling travel schedule for their poor results away from home.

“Sometimes it becomes a mental thing. Sure, every time we have to travel it is internationally, but hey, that-s what we-ve always had to deal with. Clearly we haven-t dealt with it as well as we might.”