The Wellington Phoenix have produced their most complete performance of the new Liberty A-League season, but have nothing to show for it.
The Phoenix have been beaten 1-0 by the defending champion Melbourne Victory at Epping Stadium in Melbourne in a closely fought match played in oppressive heat.
The Victory had the better goalscoring opportunities, but rarely tested Brianna Edwards in the Wellington goal outside the opening 10 minutes.
A set piece deep in first-half stoppage time was ultimately the difference between the two sides, with the reigning champs scoring the only goal of the game from a corner to secure their first win of the season.
The Nix remain winless three matches into the 2022-23 season, but are buoyed by a much improved showing.
“We spoke about trying to get a 90 minute performance together. We’d done 45, 70 and we wanted 90 here and I think that’s what we did,” Phoenix head coach Natalie Lawrence told media post-game.
“If we were a little bit more patient in the final third with some of our balls through to our strikers then it could have been a different story.
“I think we created a decent amount and had a lot of possession against the reigning champions.
“This group has done themselves pretty proud today.”
The temperature was above 30 degrees for the entirety of the match and that was too much for young Nix playmaker Alyssa Whinham, who had to be helped off the pitch in the second-half.
Whinham suffered a nasty blow to the head 10 minutes earlier.
“She’s okay,” Lawrence said. “She was struggling with the heat. It wasn’t a concussion or anything to do with her head.
“We were about to bring her off when it got a little bit too much for her. She went in [the changing room] and cooled herself down and feels much better now.
“We spent all of last season in Australia and it was definitely one of our hottest games today so it’s something for us to get used to on this side of the Tasman.
“We’re not going to use it as an excuse. We played through it all last year so we’ll just have to make sure everyone is hydrated.”
Chloe Knott led the Phoenix for the first time in the absence of club captain Lily Alfeld and vice-captain Kate Taylor.
Marisa van der Meer shifted into centre back in place of Taylor, with Claudia Cicco named to make her first A-League start at right back.
Despite the heat it was an end to end start to the match, with both goalkeepers called into action inside the opening 10 minutes.
Brianna Edwards denied Victory midfielder Alexandra Chidiac from six yards out before Paige Satchell unleashed a strong shot from the edge of the box that the hosts’ ‘keeper, Casey Dumont, managed to hold on to.
Dumont also had to be quick off her line to deny Satchell, Ava Pritchard and Michaela Robertson inside the first quarter of an hour, while Edwards made a sharp save with her legs to keep out a shot from Victory winger Beattie Goad.
The pace of the game settled down after the first drinks break midway through the first-half, with few goalscoring opportunities for either team. Michaela Foster came closest to breaking the deadlock for the Phoenix with a long-range shot in the 30th minute.
The match looked destined to be level at halftime before the Nix conceded a corner in the fifth minute of first-half stoppage time.
Striker Melina Ayres made Wellington pay, heading home a great delivery from Goad into the far corner of Edwards’ goal.
Victory pinned the Phoenix in their half after the break and Lawrence responded by making her first substitution on the hour mark, bringing on Milly Clegg in place of Robertson.
The Nix were forced to make another change moments later when Whinham collapsed with heat exhaustion, having taken a blow to her head earlier in the second-half. Isabel Gomez replaced Whinham for her first appearance of the season, while Saskia Vosper replaced Cicco.
The changes appeared to have an impact with the Phoenix getting a greater share of possession.
The game then opened up in the final quarter of an hour as Wellington searched for an equaliser. Foster bent a free-kick wide of the right-hand post in the 81st minute, before Victory substitute Maja Markovski forced Edwards into a regulation save after getting into a dangerous position.
Six minutes from fulltime Chidiac rattled Edwards’ left-hand post with a powerful shot that the Phoenix were relieved to be able to clear.
It was to be the last goalscoring chance of the match, with Victory holding on to claim all three points.
The Wellington Phoenix will travel across the ditch again next weekend to play Canberra United on Saturday afternoon.
Wellington Phoenix: 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER, 7. Chloe KNOTT (c), 9. Ava PRITCHARD, 10. Alyssa WHINHAM (6. Isabel GOMEZ 68th), 11. Betsy HASSETT, 13. Paige SATCHELL (15. Zoe MCMEEKEN 88th), 14. Michaela ROBERTSON (20. Milly CLEGG 61st), 17. Claudia CICCO (2. Saskia VOSPER 67th), 21. Michaela FOSTER.
Unused substitutes: 22. Georgia CANDY (gk).
Melbourne Victory: 1. Casey DUMONT (gk), 2. Tiffany ELIADIS (8. Alana MURPHY 46th), 3. Claudia BUNGE, 5. Jessika NASH, 6. Beattie GOAD, 7. Gema SIMON (22. Ava BRIEDIS 46th), 10. Alexandra CHIDIAC, 14. Melina AYRES (17. Maja MARKOVSKI 76th), 18. Kayla MORRISON (c), 19. Lia PRIVITELLI (16. Paige ZOIS 75th), 21. Elise KELLOND-KNIGHT.
Unused substitutes: 10. Miranda TEMPLEMAN (gk).
14. Melina AYRES (Melbourne Victory) – 45+5
10. Alexandra CHIDIAC (Melbourne Victory) – yellow – 42nd
7. Chloe KNOTT (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 63rd
6. Isabel GOMEZ (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 78th