Life after Ricki Herbert has begun with a whimper.
Fans hoping the Phoenix would honour their former helmsman with a rousing victory were left disappointed in a 2-1 loss to the Newcastle Jets at Westpac Stadium.
The defeat – Wellington’s 12th in a wretched A-League campaign – surely ends the already faint hopes of sneaking through the backdoor into the finals.
Caretaker coach Chris Greenacre had spoken passionately about the prospect of a late playoff push but first half goals to Adam Taggart and Michael Bridges killed off that prospect.
After the initial emotion and huff and puff wore off it was the same old story as the Phoenix failed basic defensive tasks and lacked imagination in their attack.
Yellow Fever did their best to inspire – unfurling a giant ‘Sir Ricki’ banner and welcoming Greenacre with a chant.
The former Phoenix striker looked like he wanted to be out on the pitch as he paced about the technical area in a tracksuit all night.
Greenacre didn’t rock the boat with selection either, sticking with the same side that drew with Adelaide United on Sunday.
The Englishman is in an interesting position, having been hired as an assistant coach for two years last July.
But he was very much a Herbert appointment and his future will probably hinge on the whims of the incoming head coach, with Greenacre already ruling himself out of the race.
The short turnaround worked against the Phoenix – the Jets had two extra days to prepare – and Gary van Egmond’s side appear finals bound after improving to fifth place.
Taggart opened the scoring in the 19th minute.
Right back Josh Brillante sent in a simple cross and an umarked Taggart struck with surety to give Glen Moss no hope.
It was similarly soft on the brink of halftime, as Craig Goodwin’s free kick met the head of Michael Bridges for 2-0.
Bridges snuck in front of Andrew Durante for the goal and a few boos rang out among the sparse crowd of 4025 who demanded more fight on home soil.
They got that after the break with a goal to who else but Jeremy Brockie.
The All White scored his 13th of the season after Louis Fenton latched onto a risky back pass and shot into Mark Birighitti’s head.
The ball rebounded perfectly for Brockie who moved ahead of Besart Berisha into outright second in the golden boot race.
Greenacre threw all of his substitutes into the fray but no-one was able to inspire an equaliser.
The caretaker doesn’t have long to pick up his tired players.
The Phoenix are back in action on Sunday against a well rested Melbourne Heart in Dunedin.
They then round out the season with road trips to Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory before hosting Melbourne Victory in what now shapes as a simple mission to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.
- © Fairfax NZ News