Wellington Phoenix limp to season-ending loss
The Wellington Phoenix's season is mercifully over after they limped across the finish line with a weak 4-1 loss to the Melbourne Victory this evening.
The Phoenix avoided the A-League wooden spoon after the Western Sydney Wanderers came back to beat the Melbourne Heart 3-2.
It was a depressing experience for the 5336 onlookers at a wintry Westpac Stadium, but at least the Victory's attacking quartet played some excellent stuff.
The game seemed like it was being played in an alternate universe from the Victory's previous visit in January when the Phoenix raised hopes of a playoff run with a thumping 5-0 win.
But injuries and suspensions have since decimated the squad, which hasn't won a game since February 21.
The margin of the loss sealed the Phoenix's worst ever defensive season, with the 51 goals against eclipsing last season's concession of 49.
Captain Andrew Durante was forced to marshal an inexperienced and makeshift rearguard, with the third-string Jacob Spoonley in goal and the unproven Luke Adams alongside him in central defence.
It was a recipe for disaster and the revenge-seeking Victory took less than a minute to land their first blow.
Gui Finkler flicked a clever ball in behind the defence for James Troisi who squared to Archie Thompson who buried the ball home.
The early strike sucked away what little confidence was remaining within the Phoenix ranks as they were routinely cut open with embarrassing ease.
It was 2-0 after half an hour as a counter-attacking Kosta Barbarouses set off down the left flank and linked with the prolific Troisi who, from a tight angle, unleashed a fierce left-footed shot into the roof of the net.
The Victory took a three-goal advantage into halftime as they simply marched through the middle of a soft defence, with Barbarouses again the provider, this time for Finkler who tucked past Spoonley with nonchalance.
It is such a pity Barbarouses is strutting his stuff against his hometown team, instead of for them, but you certainly can't blame him.
Things went from bad to worse after the break, when left back Shaun Timmins was rightly red-carded for going through the back of Barbarouses, who had the goal at his mercy.
Victory skipper Mark Milligan converted the penalty and the Yellow Fever were forced into some gallows humour with a rendition of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.
To complete a bizarre season, Jeremy Brockie struck with a brilliant volley in injury time to give the Phoenix at least some consolation.
The Phoenix will lick their wounds and reassemble on June 2 for what coach Ernie Merrick is promising will be a comprehensive pre-season.
The problem is Merrick doesn't have much room to move in materially improving personnel, with most of the squad already on the books for next season.
It seems likely that their leading scorer Stein Huysegems will be lost to Wellington with the off-contract striker benched for the first time this season.
Merrick has vowed to move swiftly in making decisions on his off-contract players with some announcements likely next week.
Timmins, Adams, Paul Ifill, Leo Bertos, Josh Brindell-South, Hamish Watson and Justin Gulley are the other players facing uncertain futures.
In the meantime all Phoenix fans have to look forward to is a potential pre-season visit by an English Premier League club, or clubs.
General manager David Dome had hoped to make an announcement before the end of the season but was unsuccessful.
Dome has said he is spending up to 10 hours a day on the exercise and, after watching yet another woeful performance, you wonder whether his energies might be better spent on trying to improve the squad.
Merrick has made much of his team's inexperience but this was still a starting XI containing eight senior internationals and three former youth internationals.
Melbourne Victory 4 (Archie Thompson, James Troisi, Gui Finkler, Mark Milligan) Wellington Phoenix 1 (Jeremy Brockie). HT: 3-0. Crowd: 5336