Melbourne City FC missed an opportunity to move into top spot of the Hyundai A-League table after falling to a 2-1 defeat against Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium on Friday evening.
Quick-fire goals from Louis Fenton and Matthew Ridenton saw Ernie Merrick’s side race to an early two-goal lead, until Aaron Mooy fired City back into the contest with a deflected free-kick to cap off a pulsating opening 20 minutes.
John van’t Schip’s side were soon in complete control and had a legitimate claims for a penalty waved away on the stroke of half-time, but were ultimately unable to penetrate a resolute Phoenix rear-guard en route to a disappointing defeat.
van’t Schip made only one change to his starting XI with Anthony Caceres replacing Paulo Retre in midfield, while there was a return to first-team action for James Brown, who took his place in the match day squad for the first time since March last year. Striker Marc Marino was also among the substitutes after returning from a knee injury.
It was an evening of festivities for the competition’s New Zealand based outfit, with the Phoenix returning to Westpac Stadium for the first time since the confirmation of the club’s 10-year licence extension.
But for City, there was no greater incentive to claim all three points. A win would be enough to move van’t Schip’s side to the summit of the Hyundai A-League table and ramp up the pressure on competition pace-setters Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers and Adelaide United.
However the quest for a crucial away result got off to the worst possible start, as the Phoenix capped off an electric start to the match with the opening goal after just 11 minutes. A superb driven ball from Michael McGlinchey out-foxed the City defence, with Fenton on hand to turn home past Thomas Sorensen and give Wellington a surprise lead.
The Phoenix adjusted quickly to the blustery conditions and were full of verve and purpose in the final third, pressing high up the pitch and causing plenty of headaches from the wide positions.
But despite witnessing their side struggle for goals in recent weeks, the home fans were in dream land only four minutes later when Ridenton doubled Wellington’s advantage.
In almost a mirror image of Fenton’s opener, Ridenton was quickest to react to a drilled cross from Roly Bonevacia with a storming run to the near post, nipping in front of Sorensen and turning the ball home to double his side’s advantage.
The second goal seemed to spark City into life and van’t Schip’s side were right back in the contest in the 19th minute, albeit in somewhat fortuitous circumstances.
A foul on Bruno Fornaroli by Manny Muscat left Mooy with a dangerous set-piece opportunity, who fired in a powerful free-kick that took a wicked deflection off the Phoenix wall, before flying past a stranded Glen Moss for his 10th goal of the season.
City were full of confidence after reducing the deficit and were denied a rapid equalizer through the combination of excellent goalkeeping and desperate defending.
A deft pass from Mooy released Bruno Fornaroli clean through on goal, who was denied by a sensational reaction save from Moss, before the on rushing Anthony Caceres saw his follow-up effort cleared off the line by Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante.
City were firmly entrenched in Wellington’s defensive third for majority of the contest and were unlucky not to receive a spot-kick on the stroke of half time when Fornaroli was brought down by Durante inside the penalty area.
Melbourne continued the second half as they ended the first and were not without chances to level the scores. Mooy came agonisingly close to doubling his set-piece tally in the 58th minute with a free-kick that cannoned off the crossbar, before Nick Fitzgerald fired an effort straight at Moss.
After absorbing continuous City attacks, Wellington enjoyed the occasional foray forward and nearly doubled the lead when Manny Muscat released Ridenton through on goal, but City keeper Dean Bouzanis – who replaced Sorensen at half-time – stood up to make a crucial smothering block.
City continued to throw numbers forward in search of an equalizer, but were unable to adequately test Moss as the Phoenix held firm to record a memorable win.
Hyundai A-League Round 21
Friday, 26 February 2016
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Louis FENTON 11', Matthew RIDENTON 15')
Melbourne City FC 1 (Aaron MOOY 19')
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Melbourne City FC line-up: 1. Thomas SORENSEN (GK) (Dean BOUZANIS 46’), 2. Alex WILKINSON, 5. Ivan FRANJIC, 8. Aaron MOOY, 11. Michael ZULLO, 19. Benjamin GARUCCIO (Jacob MELLING 64’), 23. Bruno FORNAROLI, 24. Patrick KISNORBO (C), 27. Nick FITZGERALD (James BROWN 64’), 29. Anthony CACERES, 33. Osama MALIK.
Substitutes not used: 18. Paulo RETRE, 26. Marc MARINO,
Yellow cards: Kisnorbo 3’, Zullo 34’
Red cards: nil
Wellington Phoenix line-up: 1. Glen MOSS (GK), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 4. Roly BONEVACIA, 6. Dylan FOX, 8. Alex RODRIGUEZ (Justin GULLEY 68’), 10. Michael MCGLINCHEY (Kwabena APPIAH 89’), 13. Albert RIERA, 16. Louis FENTON, 19. Thomas DOYLE, 22. Andrew DURANTE (C), 23. Matthew RIDENTON (Ben SIGMUND 86’)
Substitutes not used: 20. Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 18. Ben SIGMUND, 24. Logan ROGERSON
Yellow cards: Fenton 24’, Fox 41’, Muscat 83’
Red cards: nil