Phoenix doused in first-half blitz

A VASTLY improved second half performance by the Wellington Phoenix was not enough to stop Sydney FC grabbing a deserved 3-1 win in their clash at the Sydney Football Stadium.

The damage was done in a first half blitz from the home side, with Mark Bridge scoring twice and Sydney captain Steve Corica also finding the back of the Phoenix-s goal in a devastating 20-minute spell.

The Phoenix regrouped well and pushed Sydney all the way in the second half, rewarded by substitute Costa Barbarouses- 81st-minute goal after Daniel had earlier missed a retaken spot kick in a pulsating encounter that flowed from end to end.

The Phoenix had travelled to Sydney on a huge high after demolishing Gold Coast United 6-0 at Westpac Stadium in the previous round but the boot looked to be on the other foot in Sydney when the hosts raced to a 3-0 lead inside 35 minutes, taking advantage of some strangely lackadaisical defending from the visitors- usually reliable back four following the early departure of number one keeper Mark Paston with a knock to his hip.

But coach Ricki Herbert-s halftime talk proved effective and the Phoenix took the game the Sydney FC in a thrilling second half that yielded superb scoring opportunities for both sides, a penalty for Wellington and finally Barbarouses- well-taken strike.

Daniel had the chance to put the Phoenix on the ledger with plenty of time left when referee Gerard Parsons ruled striker Paul Ifill had been pulled down in the box. The Brazilian coolly slotted his first attempt past Clint Bolton but Parsons ordered it to be retaken when the Phoenix encroached. Daniel-s second effort was easily smothered by Bolton.

Following the superb 90-minute performance against Gold Coast United, Herbert was rightfully disappointed that his team only managed to hit top gear in the second half.

“There was 20-minute spell in the first half where things didn-t go well for us and we got done. It was chalk and cheese, really, in terms of our performance from the first half and in the second.

“That-s an important issue for us to address – we played well in the second half and got on the front foot, which is what we should-ve done from the start.”

Herbert said the Phoenix-s intention had been to absorb the early pressure from Sydney FC before ramping up their own. That seemed a solid and effective ploy till Sydney-s pacy front men were able to capitalise on several uncharacteristic defensive lapses.

“When you come to a place like Sydney you-ve got to be mindful,” said Herbert. “Our intention was to keep ourselves in the game and we thought that we could come over the top – Sydney have been vulnerable at the back end of games and we saw that again tonight.”

The Phoenix now look forward to returning home for their next two Hyundai A-League 2009/10 fixtures. However, it will be a busy time for the Wellingtonians and a real test of the squad-s depth, with games against the Newcastle Jets on Wednesday and Perth Glory on Sunday.

“We-ll be back on a plane straight back to Wellington where we-ll back up on Wednesday,” said Herbert. “There-s not a lot of time between games but it-ll be good to be back home.”

Only Paston will be in doubt for Wednesday night-s game against the Jets. Should the New Zealand international be ruled out, young reserve keeper Reece Crowther will be called on to start.