The Wellington Phoenix have fallen to another heavy defeat in the Liberty A-League, despite delivering one of the best performances of their short history.
The Phoenix have been beaten 4-0 by high-flying Melbourne City at AAMI Park in Melbourne after falling behind 3-0 at halftime, an advantage City conceded they were lucky to have.
The hosts took almost half an hour to break the deadlock, but scored a further two goals late in the first half to all but end Wellington’s hopes of picking up the second point of the maiden season.
It is a hard result to stomach for Phoenix head coach Gemma Lewis.
“I think we played more positively today, which sucks to still walk away with a four-nil loss,” Lewis told media post-match.
“I think for the most part we had a bit more about us. We were a bit more relentless out of possession, we were turning over second ball, we were getting in their face, we were trying to be positive going forward, we were getting our fullbacks joining up, we were trying to get attacking numbers in the box.
“I was happy with how we performed in the first-half, but three-nil down at halftime is so hard to come back from.”
Lewis made just the one enforced change to the XI which started the 5-0 defeat to Sydney FC on December 30. Talitha Kramer replaced the injured Saskia Vosper at left back.
Wellington started confidently and were arguably the better of the two sides for the first half hour.
Football Ferns forward Hannah Wilkinson was largely a peripheral figure, a fortnight after scoring a record-equalling five goals against Melbourne Victory, and Lily Alfeld was largely unemployed in the Phoenix goal, with Kate Taylor and Mackenzie Barry marshalling the back four.
The Phoenix created some good opportunities going forward as well. Some last-ditch defending from Melbourne City denied the Phoenix from a corner in the 15th minute, while Chloe Knott was unable to convert a couple of enticing crosses from Zoe McMeeken and Isabel Gomez.
Kaitlyn Torpey then delivered a sucker punch in the 29th minute, giving City the lead against the run of play with a wonder strike. From outside the area Torpey blasted a powerful first-time shot inside Alfeld’s near post.
Wilkinson capitalised on her only goal-scoring opportunity of the first half in the 43rd minute, pouncing on an under-hit back pass from Barry and calmly chipping Alfeld to double City’s lead.
Defender Winonah Heatley scored their third deep into first half stoppage time, scrambling the ball in at the back post from a corner.
“I felt like we had a good first half but then we made that mistake and conceded a soft second goal and then conceded just before we go into halftime from a corner,” Lewis said.
“We just have to really work on stopping those soft goals because that really changed the game to be honest.
“I felt like we had really good moments in that first half, where we were pushing them. Obviously, we’re still struggling with that attacking threat, but I felt like we had more attacking options.”
Melbourne City had greater control of the game in the second-half and Alfeld twice had to make top quality saves to deny the impressive Holly McNamara.
Football Ferns defender Rebekah Stott also rattled the Phoenix crossbar.
Wellington looked most dangerous from set pieces, but were unable to test City goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri.
Melbourne City eventually got their fourth goal 12 minutes from fulltime when their captain Emma Checker found the back of the net from six yards out after the Phoenix were unable to clear from a corner.
The Wellington Phoenix return to Wollongong next Sunday for their seventh round Liberty A-League match against the Brisbane Roar, who were beaten 1-0 by the Western Sydney Wanderers earlier this evening.
Wellington Phoenix: 1. Lily ALFELD (gk) (c), 3. Kate TAYLOR, 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 6. Isabel GOMEZ (13. Te Reremoana WALKER 77th), 7. Chloe KNOTT (5. Jordan JASNOS 77th), 8. Grace WISNEWSKI, 9. Ava PRITCHARD, 11. Kelli BROWN (10. Grace JALE 55th), 15. Zoe MCMEEKEN, 17. Talitha KRAMER (18. Annabel MARTIN 77th), 20. Alyssa WHINHAM
Unused substitutes: 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk)
Melbourne City: 23. Melissa BARBIERI (gk) (12. Coco MAJSTOROVIC (gk) 84th), 4. Chelsea BLISSETT (19. Tyla Jay VLAJNIC 62nd) 5. Tori TUMETH, 7. Winonah HEATLEY (20. Caitlin KARIC 77th), 8. Kaitlyn TORPEY, 9. Holly MCNAMARA (11. Isabella ACCARDO 84th), 10. Rhianna POLLICINA, 13. Rebekah STOTT, 15. Emma CHECKER (c), 17. Hannah WILKINSON, 18. Leah DAVIDSON (3. Darcey MALONE 62nd)
8. Kaitlyn TORPEY (Melbourne City) – 29th
17. Hannah WILKINSON (Melbourne City) – 43rd
7. Winonah HEATLEY (Melbourne City) – 45+4
15. Emma CHECKER (Melbourne City) – 78th
4. Mackenzie BARRY (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 75th