Wellington Phoenix's once-promising season is on life support after they rolled over in a limp 5-0 loss to the Newcastle Jets at Hunter Stadium tonight.
Coach Ernie Merrick had identified the need for three wins from the last four games if they were to achieve their goal of qualifying for the A-League finals - now they will have to be perfect to achieve that unlikely goal.
It seemed as though the Phoenix were still suffering a hangover from the previous 2-2 draw with Melbourne Heart.
They were excellent in the face of adversity that night but they failed to front with the requisite intensity against Newcastle - who deserved their win but are hardly Barcelona.
You can only assume that the Phoenix's horror injury toll has finally caught up with them.
After failing to win in their opening 10 games, Merrick's men hit a purple patch and played the best football in the club's seven-year history.
When the Phoenix thumped Melbourne Victory 5-0 in January - with the now injured Carlos Hernandez in imperious form - it seemed a given they would at the very least qualify for the post-season.
But Albert Riera's injury, in particular, has crippled them, while they badly missed the skill of Hernandez and the heart of the suspended Ben Sigmund last night.
After an even opening 20 minutes the Jets began to assert their dominance.
Much maligned former England striker Emile Heskey kicked things off with a point-blank finish at the far post after Josh Mitchell flicked on a David Carney corner.
The awful playing surface wasn't conducive to good passing football but the hosts had success scrapping hard for possession then playing directly into the wide pockets for Carney and Joel Griffiths.
The Phoenix managed to enter halftime just 1-0 down but an unmarked Griffiths doubled the lead just after the break, showing great skill to slam in a volley from another Carney corner.
If ever there was a time for the Phoenix to stand up this was it but instead they seemed flat and jaded and the Jets carried on their merry way.
Australian World Cup hopeful Adam Taggart hit the Golden Boot lead, nodding in a free header from a Zenon Caravella cross.
The Phoenix barely had a chance or fired a shot in anger, with last weekend's star Roy Krishna well contained.
Taggart then further boosted his status with Socceroos' coach Ange Postecoglou with his second goal, pouncing on a Michael Boxall error and then getting some luck as the deflected shot flew past Glen Moss.
Michael Bridges completed the rout with another spectacular volley.
Merrick looked sick on the sidelines and the Phoenix are now four points off the playoff pace.
The canny coach will have to pull a rabbit out of the hat if they are to compete against Adelaide United in Wellington on Sunday week.
- Fairfax Media
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