Despite a spirited second half performance the Wellington Phoenix were beaten 3-1 by an in-form Melbourne City at AAMI Park on Monday night.
Teams have struggled to contain City’s strike force of Bruno Fornaroli and Harry Novillo in recent weeks and the Phoenix were no different.
When Fornaroli, surely the signing of the season, netted in the 11th minute it was his 13th goal of the campaign and meant he had scored against every other team in his first 16 games, a league record.
Novillo added a second goal for City with a neat side-foot volley for his seventh of the season in the 30th minute and when the same player made it 3-0 three minutes into the second spell the game was as good as over.
Rather than feeling sorry for themselves the Phoenix went on the offensive, and while they only had a superb 30-metre strike by Roly Bonevacia to show for their efforts they produced several chances that, as has been the story of their season, went begging.
Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick must have been envious of the strike power City had at their disposal as he watched former New South Wales Premier League striker Blake Powell toil away up front for his team.
Merrick threw 20-year-old Joel Stevens into the fray after 58 minutes and the livewire youngster caused the City defence some problems with his speed.
Always reluctant to make excuses after a loss, Merrick conceded that the travel schedule his team has endured this season was finally taking its toll.
“We have had so much travelling to do that the players haven’t had enough recovery time between games,” Merrick said.
“Every other league in the world tries to play home, away, home but we have hardly played at home this season.”
Merrick said the in-form striking duo of Fornaroli and Novillo were going to be hard for most teams to handle.
“It took us 35 minutes to work out how to contain them and it was always going to be tough to come back from that start,” Merrick said.
“We played some good football in the second half but if you can’t score goals you won’t win games.
“Teams that spend big money will be near the top of the league and while City had that strike force we brought on a 20-year-old amateur in Joel Stevens.
“To his credit he livened things up but unfortunately he was fouled late in the game and will be out for a while.”
For Saturday’s game against Central Coast Mariners in Christchurch the Phoenix will be without captain Andrew Durante and midfielder Vince Lia who are both suspended after picking up their fifth yellow cards of the season.