Defensive frailties blot a legend’s landmark as Phoenix fall to Sydney FC

On a night to honour Andrew Durante’s record 279th Hyundai A-League, Wellington Phoenix have had a night to forget at the back, gifting Sydney FC a 14th win of the season with a series of defensive errors.

With the hosts boasting one of the best attacking front lines ever seen in the A-League an injury-struck Phoenix were always facing an uphill battle, but two mistakes inside 13 minutes allowed the Champions an armchair ride, as the Sky Blues comfortably ran out 4-0 winners at Allianz Stadium on Friday night.

With no Andrija Kaludjerović, Roy Krishna or Tom Doyle it was nevertheless a strong XI that took the field for Phoenix and they started brightly with Matija Ljujic and Nathan Burns both fashioning early sighters.

But with less than eight minutes played a calamitous goal as Italian defender Marco Rossi appeared to lose the flight of a seemingly innocuous cross from Michael Zullo – allowing Sydney skipper Alex Brosque an easy finish past Lewis Italiano.

If Phoenix were looking to put the early mishap behind them five minutes later it was another defensive mix up that allowed Sydney in.

Confusion between two defenders saw the ball fall again to Brosque who played in Adrian Mierzejewski who finished with aplomb.

Still, Phoenix showed intent – Ljujic with a fine shot on the turn that had Andrew Redmayne scrambling to tip round the post before Michael McGlinchey burst into the box sending the Sydney defence scrambling.

Italiano then did well to save first one-on-one with Mierzejewski, before then denying the Pole seven minutes later in the 30th.

Rossi succumbed to a muscle injury allowing Dylan Fox to enter the fray, and the young Australian defender showed energy and purpose from the outset.

Two errors for two goals, with the scoreline hiding good patches of industry from the visitors.

In the second half there was an A-League debut for 17-year-old Liberato Cacace, another bright prospect from the Wellington Phoenix Football Academy.

A defensive midfielder or defender by trade Cacace was rewarded for a fine run of performances in the ISPS Handa Premiership with selection in the squad, coming on in the less familiar role of left wingback with an injured Matt Ridenton making way.

The youngster’s first involvement showed tremendous composure, a fine first touch and then layoff creating a far post opportunity but Adam Parkhouse was unable to control on his less-favoured right foot.

Fox then made a crucial intervention with 62 minutes gone to deny the league’s topscorer, Bobo, as Phoenix lifted the intensity and threatened to find a way back into the match.

A gilt-edged opportunity arose in the 67th minute and it was Cacace again looking to instigate something. A fine bisecting pass from Ljujic put the youngster in behind, and he cut back expertly to set the Sydney defence scrambling, both McGlinchey then Goran Paracki were denied as their follow up shots were well-blocked.

But just as Phoenix looked to have gained a foothold in the match, their defensive frailties haunted them once more. A simple mistake at the back was exploited by Milos Ninkovic who ghosted in on the blind side of Daniel Mullen before chipping expertly home past Italiano.

Substitutes Aaron Carver and David Carney then combined to add a fourth on a night where Wellington were their own worst enemies.

A key run of four crucial games to come as Phoenix face bottom-four rivals with season-defining points on the line.