Wellington Phoenix put on a fine attacking display in front of their home fans but were ultimately undone by a late Sydney FC goal at Westpac Stadium on Sunday night.
In a dominant attacking performance, Phoenix created a number of opportunities and had two goals ruled out for offside before Milos Ninkovic stole the points with a strike two minutes into stoppage time for Sydney.
The goal, against the run of play, proved enough to seal the 1-0 victory for the visitors.
Wellington made a strong start and were looking dangerous every time they went forward.
On the quarter hour, a Kosta Barbarouses ball across goal was poked in at the near post by Michael McGlinchey, but the effort was ruled out for offside.
The front line was in full flow and after switching sides on the pitch, Barbarouses found Roy Krishna with a delightful diagonal ball, but the Fijian’s shot went just wide on 20 minutes.
Barley a minute later a lightening counter attack released Barbarouses in the area, however Danny Vukovic was able to get down to deny the striker.
The home side was in complete control of the contest and midway through the first half Gui Finkler found space on the edge of the area and played Krishna through. His fierce shot was expertly saved by Vukovic.
Just past the half hour Sydney FC ventured on a rare foray forward and found David Carney with space in the box. His well-struck shot was brilliantly saved by Glen Moss at the near post.
It was still the Phoenix who looked more like scoring however, and Tom Doyle came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock when he fired a header from a Finkler corner into the upright.
The home side had the ball in the net again just before the interval as Barbarouses fed a superb through ball for Krishna, who rounded Vukovic before firing in but again Phoenix were denied by the assistant’s flag, though on this occasion it was a very close decision.
Wellington continued to dominate after the interval, it was still just the finishing touch that was lacking.
Approaching the hour mark another wicked Finkler corner was headed by Jacob Tratt across goal to Krishna who under pressure could only flick his header over the bar.
As the match wore on Sydney began to look more menacing on the break and 15 minutes from time Carney broke down the left, before cutting inside and unleashing a shot that flew past the far post.
In the 83rd minute it seemed Phoenix were finally destined to score the goal their play deserved when substitute Hamish Watson flicked on for Barbarouses who was in the clear.
Yet he was stopped in his tracks by the assistant’s flag, in what again appeared an extremely close call.
Despite dominating vast periods of the match and creating a number of good chances Phoenix were hit with a sucker punch in the dying seconds.
A long ball into the box was headed into the path on Ninkovic who finished coolly from close range to win the game for Sydney FC.
It was the culmination of a frustrating night for Phoenix Head Coach Ernie Merrick.
“It was very tough to take, especially when we dominated the game. I thought it was the best football we played this year easily and then to not finish when we had so many chances to finish… two offside calls that weren’t offside… it was just really tough to take,” Merrick said.
“I was just impressed with the way they tried to play really good football in front of our home crowd.
“Roly [Bonevacia] and Vince [Lia] played in front of the two centre backs and we pushed on Mikey [McGlinchey] and Gui [Finkler] which created space up front as well. I thought the tactics worked really well.
“All I can expect is that the players keep playing that type of football and with the quality of the strikers we’ve got they’ll [goals] will start going in.
“We could be sitting here two goals up, it’s just such a fickle game. I’m just happy that we had that type of performance, I’m not happy that we haven’t scored a goal in three games.”
Buoyed by the impressive attacking display, Phoenix next face Melbourne Victory away before returning home to take on Newcastle Jets on 5 November.
Wellington Phoenix FC: 1. Glen MOSS (GK), 2. Jacob TRATT, 4. Roly BONEVACIA, 7. Guilherme FINKLER (11. Hamish WATSON 80’), 9. Kosta BARBAROUSES (23. Matthew RIDENTON 90+1’), Michael McGLINCHEY, 13. Marco ROSSI, 17. Vince LIA, 19. Tom DOYLE (12. Adam PARKOUSE 45’), 21. Roy KRISHNA, 22. Andrew DURANTE (c)
UNUSED SUBS: 20. Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 14. Alex RUFER
Sydney FC: 20. Danny VUKOVIC (GK), 4. Alex WILKINSON, 5. Matthew JURMAN (c), 6. Joshua BRILLANTE, 7. Michael ZULLO, 9. BOBÔ (18. Matt SIMON 71’), 10. Milos NINKOVIC, 13. Brandon O’NEILL, 17. David CARNEY, 21. Filip HOLOSKO (14. Alex BROSQUE 61’), 23. Rhyan GRANT
UNUSED SUBS: 1. Vedran JANJETOVIC, 8. Milos DIMITRIJEVIC, 22. Sebastian RYALL
Referee: Kurt AMS