Phoenix wilt in Sydney

WELLINGTON Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert was blunt in his assessment of his team’s performance in a 2-0 loss to Sydney FC: “We weren’t good enough tonight.”

WELLINGTON Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert was blunt in his assessment of his team-s performance in a 2-0 loss to Sydney FC: “We weren-t good enough tonight.”

Goals to Brendan Gan and John Aloisi at the Sydney Football Stadium sealed the three Hyundai A-League 2009/10 points for the hosts in a match where the Phoenix fought resolutely to stay in touch for 75 minutes.

However, football matches are 90-minute affairs and the Phoenix ran out of puff with 15 minutes to go, conceding fairly soft goals to Gan in the 77th minute and Aloisi in the 81st.

“We struggled to get going and get a foothold in the game,” Herbert said. “We were able to soak up the pressure for the most part and the defence was holding, and when you-re away from home in this league that-s the stage where you look to carry that through and get at least a point. Unfortunately we couldn-t do that.”

The gamebreaker came when Gan sent a rocket of a header past debutant Phoenix keeper Reece Crowther, the Sydney substitute unmarked in the box from a set play. Four minutes later, as the Phoenix pushed up looking for the equaliser, Sydney FC were able to counter-attack. With the Phoenix defence racing back, it was Aloisi who took advantage of the hosts- superior numbers to nod a lovely cross past Crowther.

Herbert was frustrated by the way his team conceded the opening goal.

“It is a concern that a player was allowed to get free in the box. We-ve worked hard on countering those situations and to give up a goal like that isn-t good enough. From there we had to press up and you-re always vulnerable when you-re chasing and Sydney caught us on the counter.”

The Phoenix lacked fluidity, particularly in midfield.

“We never got passing the ball well and that-s something we pride ourselves on. We were hesitant and lacked cohesion and we simply didn-t get enough possession or hold on to the ball well enough.”

However, Herbert was pleased with the efforts of several players - notably striker Paul Ifill and Crowther, the 20-year-old keeper making his Hyundai A-League debut in place of regular starter Mark Paston, who stayed in Wellington with his wife, Amy, for the birth of Jack, the couple-s first child.

“Paul was very good, he worked hard and showed very clearly what he has to offer to the club,” said Herbert. “I felt for Reece. He was playing in his first game, against Sydney at the SFS and that-s a big challenge. But he commanded things well and rarely put a foot wrong.”

Herbert and the Phoenix now turn their attention to Friday night-s match against Adelaide United at Westpac Stadium. The Reds sit just above last-placed North Queensland Fury on the Hyundai A-League table after the two teams played out a 3-3 draw in their round four match.

The Phoenix are looking forward to getting back on home turf after playing three of their first four games across the ditch.

“The game is on Friday night so we-ll need to back up pretty smartly,” said Herbert. “The positive is that everyone will have to stay focused on putting things right quickly and we-ll be ripping back into things immediately.”