Melbourne City FC has fallen to a resilient Wellington Phoenix outfit, going down 1-0 in Auckland at Eden Park on Saturday evening.
Wellington were denied an opener as VAR determined that Gary Hooper took a touch off a deflected free kick, subsequently playing Matt Steinmann offside and ruling out the goal.
Despite City having a strong start to the second half, it was the 'Nix who found the breakthrough through David Ball in the 58th minute.
City's attention now turns to Sunday 1 March where the team will host Brisbane Roar in a blockbuster double header at AAMI Park following next week's bye.
Head Coach Erick Mombaerts sought to keep a winning formula as he named an unchanged starting team to the one that took all three points in the Melbourne Derby last Friday night at AAMI Park.
Dean Bouzanis returned to the bench alongside Connor Metcalfe and Moudi Najjar, with youngsters Joe Gauci, Ramy Najjarine and Kerrin Stokes all making way.
It was a fairly robust start to the fixture at Eden Park, with City setting the tone for the game early, allowing Wellington to hold possession in their defensive third as our boys awaited an error from the Phoenix defence.
Chances in the first half came few and far between due to the slow pace of the build up play from Wellington, the first chance of the game fell to City and Jamie Maclaren as an errant goal kick found Adrian Luna, who with a peach of a first time ball, played Jamie in on goal, luckily for the Phoenix, Marinovic was privy to Maclaren’s shot and made a strong save to his bottom right.
Spurred on by this chance, Mombaerts’ midfield began to flex their superiority and take control of the game through the dangerous trio of Josh Brillante, Florin Berenguer and Luna.
The visitors continued to push hard for an opener, but Wellington’s defence held strong. Around the 20 minute mark, City began to heat up, with their attack culminating in a Craig Noone volley that was cleared away by Davila.
This marked a turning point in the game, as the home side then began to take control of the game. A strong attack in the 24th minute saw the Phoenix pushing forward in numbers, only to be denied by a crucial tackle through Nathaniel Atkinson.
Following a contentious free kick against Adrian Luna, Wellington were denied the opening goal after VAR intervened deeming the ball to have touched Gary Hooper, therefore playing Matt Steinmann offside as he tapped it in.
Following the VAR, the game returned to its natural balance, albeit a lot slower paced. With the fizzle taken out of the game, the half ended all square with everything to play for in the final 45 minutes.
The second half opened with City well and truly in control of the game, firing shot after shot in on goal, alongside multiple set pieces, it seemed as the away side was destined to find the back of the net.
Disappointingly, against the run of play, Wellington opened the scoring with a powerful run through Gary Hooper, who proceeded to burst down the right flank before whipping in a pinpoint cross to David Ball who bundled the ball into the back of the net.
As City began to work their way back into the game, Luna struck a fantastic free kick which forced the 'Nix shot stopper into another great save in the 70th minute.
As the minutes ticked down, Mombaerts made three changes, bringing on a trio of youngsters in Stefan Colakovski, Lachlan Wales and Moudi Najjar. Despite the teenagers bringing a spark to the pitch, City were unable to muster a late equaliser.
What’s up Next?
City will sit out Round 20 with the bye, before returning to AAMI Park on Sunday 1 March for a blockbuster double header against Brisbane Roar with our W-League side.