The Wellington Phoenix turned in arguably their worst performance of the season when they were beaten 2-1 by Western Sydney Wanderers at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday night.
Despite being far from their best the New Zealand side looked to have escaped with a point till they conceded yet again from a set piece with five minutes left on the clock.
Losing goals at set pieces has been the Phoenix’ Achilles heel this season despite the coaching staff working on that part of their game training session after training session.
The Phoenix got off to a bad start when they conceded a goal in the ninth minute, ironically from their own free kick.
Both central defenders went up into the opposing penalty area for the kick but Michael McGlinchey went for goal, his shot hit the crossbar and rebounded out allowing the Wanderers to break and Federico Piovaccari to slot the ball past Glen Moss.
“Why would you send your two central defenders up when you are going to shoot? I’m still trying to work that one out,” coach Ernie Merrick said.
The Phoenix’ equaliser in the 18th minute came from an unlikely source in the form of fullback Manny Muscat who cut in from the left and scored with a low right foot shot.
The Wanderers’ winning goal came from a corner in the 85th minute through Mark Bridge who was unmarked just inside the penalty area at the back post.
Merrick accepted his team played well below par but was bitterly disappointed to lose a point in the closing minutes.
“We didn’t play very well tonight,” Merrick said.
“Normally we control the midfield but tonight we couldn’t hit a pass.
“We had three strikers up front in the first half and couldn’t get Jeffery (Sarpong) in the game so I brought on another midfield player at halftime at the expense of Jeffery.
“I thought we stabilised it a little bit but we were relying too much on counter-attacks.
“Despite all that I thought we should have ground out a draw but there is no doubt the better team was the Wanderers.”
The Phoenix lost stalwart centre back Ben Sigmund in the 53rd minute when he collapsed in the middle of the pitch.
“Ben had been suffering from a virus all week but he thought he was over it,” Merrick said.
“He also got a knock on the head in the first half.”
Merrick now has to lift his team for what will be another tough assignment against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Thursday.