THE unbeaten path travelled by Wellington Phoenix in the past three weeks hit a pothole at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the home side stumbling 1-0 to Queensland Roar in the Hyundai A-League round nine encounter.
Before a home crowd of 6543, the Phoenix failed to maintain the momentum that had seen them collect seven points from a possible nine after a slow start to the season.
Ultimately the home side was made to pay for a tentative start to the match, and in the dying moments missed a golden chance to at least snatch a valuable competition point when midfielder Leo Bertos shot high with only the goalkeeper to beat.
It was Bertos, however, who sparked the Phoenix into life after coming on as a substitute immediately after halftime – his second half effort outstanding.
The first half was something of a schizophrenic affair for the Phoenix – starting slowly before hitting a purple patch only to go one down just before the interval.
Shane Smeltz had his first shot in anger in the seventh minute following a delightful through ball from Jon McKain to Vaughan Coveny wide on the right flank. Smeltz could only strike wide from a handy position from Coveny-s low cross into the penalty area.
The home side was forced to absorb most of the pressure as Roar dominated territory and possession in the opening exchanges.
Smeltz forced a save from Roar goalkeeper Liam Reddy midway through the first half after getting the better of three defenders to strike with his favoured right foot.
Coveny had the best chance of the game in the 33rd minute but his shot from in front of goal was skied high.
The Roar went ahead in the 40th minute when defender Josh McCloughan headed home from close range following an uncleared corner. Moments earlier, Phoenix goalkeeper Mark Paston had to parry away a goal-bound free kick from midfielder Charlie Miller.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert made a straight midfield substitution immediately after halftime, Bertos on for Adam Kwasnik. The change, combined with the coach-s comments at the break still firmly in mind, prompted the Phoenix to lift the tempo.
Ten minutes in McKain rose high to meet a Leilei Gao corner, his looping header beating Reddy but not the top of the crossbar.
As much as the Phoenix continued to press, the Roar defence held firm. While the home side got into the attacking third more often the final touch let them down.
The busy Gao forced Reddy to dive low and to his right to save a goal-bound header with five minutes of regulation time remaining.
When Bertos- late strike was pushed high it appeared the game was lost. However, the Phoenix continued to throw all but the kitchen sink forward – with an effort from Smeltz that went wide deep into injury time the last shot of the game.
Wellington Phoenix 0
Queensland Roar 1 (Josh McCloughlan 40-)
Wellington Phoenix: (1. Mark PASTON (gk), 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 6. Tim BROWN, 8. Vaughan COVENY (11. DANIEL 73-), 9. Shane SMELTZ, 15. Adam KWASNIK (7. Leo BERTOS 46-), 18. Ben SIGMUND, 21 Leilei GAO, 22. Andrew DURANTE (c).
Substitutes not used: (10. Michael FERRANTE, 20. Glen MOSS (gk).
Yellow cards: (Tim Brown 24-, Leilei Gao 41-.
Red cards: (None.
Queensland Roar: (1. Liam REDDY (gk), 2. Andrew PACKER, 4. Craig MOORE (c), 5. Josh McCLOUGHLAN, 8. Massimo MURDOCCA, 9. Sergio VAN DIJK (7. Michael ZULLO 79-), 10. Charlie MILLER, 15. Matt McKAY, 18. Danny TIATTO (6. David DODD 66-), 23. Tim SMITS (11. REINALDO 62-), 24. Matthew MUNDY.
Substitutes not used: (Griffin McMASTER (gk).
Yellow cards: (Danny Tiatto 30-, Sergio van Dijk 51-, David Dodd 81-, Liam Reddy 90-.
Red cards: (None.