The Wellington Phoenix gave Hyundai A-League high flyers Western Sydney Wanderers the fright of their lives before going down 1-2 at Parramatta Stadium on Sunday evening in front of 15,809 fans.
The three points allowed the Wanderers to open up a five-point lead at the top of the table, but they had to pull out all the stops and only got the win thanks to two penalties.
The first was converted by marquee player Shinji Ono and the second by Mark Bridge.
Even then Jeremy Brockie could have salvaged a point for the brave Phoenix side in stoppage time, but his lovely lifted volley hit the crossbar and bounced to safety to the relief of the Wanderers defence.
The Phoenix started brightly but were rocked when referee Srebe Delovski awarded a penalty in the eighth minute after a tackle between Tony Lochhead and Youssouf Hersi.
The Phoenix drew level after 22 minutes with Brockie netting his 15th goal of the season, levelling Mariners- Danny McBreen in the race for the Golden Boot.
For the rest of the half honours were even but 90 seconds into the second spell the Phoenix conceded a second penalty, this time clear cut with Vince Lia inexplicably handling the ball in the area.
Undeterred the Phoenix kept their composure and most of the chances in the second half fell their way but they were unable to find an equaliser.
Phoenix caretaker coach Chris Greenacre was delighted with his team-s performance but gutted by the result.
“I-ve just told the players how proud I was of their effort and the way they wanted to take the game to the league leaders,” Greenacre said.
“I was delighted with their performance but disappointed by the result but that is football. We gave a couple of penalties away, one of which could have been avoided.
“Vinnie has apologised to me and his team-mates for that and we have moved on, but I really believe we deserved go get something from the game because we dominated for long periods.”
Asked to explain the improved performance in this game, and the win over Melbourne Heart last weekend, Greenacre said he had tried to take the pressure off the players.
“We-ve released the shackles and let the players express themselves,” he said.
“In the last two games we have been really positive and we have to take the same approach into our next two games against Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory.”
Questioned as to whether he would put his hand up to take permanent charge of the Phoenix, Greenacre dodged the issue.
“I-m in charge till the end of the season. That is the agreement,” he said.
“I am just focussing on the last two games but I admit that I-ve really enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot about myself.
“This season I was just determined to soak up whatever I could as Ricki-s assistant because there is no better person to learn from.
“You do get a taste of it and maybe start to want it a bit sooner than you thought, but for now my job is to get the best out of the team for the next two games.”