Phoenix thumped 5-1 by rampant Adelaide
The Wellington Phoenix had claimed their Melbourne Heart meltdown was just a "blip".
But Ernie Merrick's men again revealed troubling Jekyll and Hyde tendencies in a 5-1 loss to Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium tonight.
Once again it was the much vaunted foreign legion that did the damage for the rampant Reds.
Portugese winger Fabio Ferreira was a poor man's Cristiano Ronaldo as he wreaked havoc on the flanks and sealed the result with a cracking second-half strike.
Argentine forward Jeronimo - public enemy No 1 with Phoenix fans because of his dirty dive in 2012 - scored a contender for goal of the season early on and helped himself to a brace after the break.
And Spaniards Sergio Cirio, again on the scoresheet, and Isaias, pulling the strings in midfield, were equally influential as Josep Gombau's side showed substance to go with style, improved to third place and marked themselves as genuine title contenders.
The Phoenix, meanwhile, remain stranded in seventh.
With just six games left before the top-six finals, they desperately need to shake off the inconsistency that has crept into their recent work.
The 5-0 loss to Heart a fortnight ago was written off as a bad day at the office and that seemed fair enough as they responded with a 4-1 demolition of defending champions Central Coast.
But, Ben Sigmund aside, there was an alarming lack of fight tonight.
There were no excuses - the Phoenix had spent almost a week preparing themselves at Adelaide's beachside suburb Glenelg.
Perhaps they had subconsciously slipped into holiday mode as they started the game without the necessary intensity.
Michael Boxall and Reece Caira are still learning the ropes as fullbacks at A-League level and they were ruthlessly targeted by a pacy and skilful home side.
Jeronimo kicked things off by cutting inside Boxall and letting rip with a swerving shot that defeated Glen Moss in the 23rd minute.
Ferreira then got in behind the left-side of the Phoenix defence and cut back for an unmarked Cirio who finished easily.
Tyler Boyd, not tracking back well enough, was dragged for fellow teen Matthew Ridenton as Merrick sought to at least get a foothold in midfield.
Merrick says he's not one to rant and rave.
And, 2-0 down at halftime, he would have been reminding his players of last week's comeback against the Mariners.
But in this form Adelaide are a completely different proposition and the carnage continued in the second half.
Ferreira, a former Chelsea youth player who Adelaide later rescued from second-tier New South Wales club Dulwich Hill, ripped in the third himself and then laid on a perfect cross for Jeronimo to volley in for his second.
Kenny Cunningham grabbed a consolation goal for the Phoenix with another long-range strike but there was more misery to come.
Caira was rushed to hospital with a suspected broken cheekbone after copping a raised elbow from Tarek Elrich and faces a long stint on the sidelines.
Midfielder Manny Muscat was sent off for his second yellow card and will miss the March 9 home game against Perth Glory.
And Awer Mabil tapped home in injury time for Adelaide's fifth.