Wellington Phoenix's season of misery ends
Thank goodness for that.
The Wellington Phoenix season is mercifully over after they limped across the finish line with a weak 4-1 loss to Melbourne Victory.
It left them in danger of retaining the A-League wooden spoon, if Melbourne Heart beat Western Sydney Wanderers in the late game last night.
It was a depressing experience for the 5336 onlookers at a wintry Westpac Stadium, although at least the Victory's attacking quartet played some excellent stuff.
The game seemed like it was being played in an alternative 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.
"It's been the way of our season, that we struggle to back up when we have injuries and suspensions," said Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick.
"We don't have good quality depth but I thought the effort was tremendous from the boys."
Captain Andrew Durante was forced to marshall an inexperienced and makeshift rearguard, with the third-string Jacob Spoonley in goal and the unproven Luke Adams alongside 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 to bury 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-foot 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. 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.
"There's been so many changes every week," Durante said.
"Every week you look around the pitch and there's someone different playing alongside me or further up the field. It's unsettling, especially when the people you're putting in there are young and inexperienced."
The Phoenix will lick their wounds and reassemble on June 2 for what Merrick is promising will be a comprehensive pre-season.
The problem is, Merrick doesn't have much room to move in 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 last night benched for the first time this season.
Melbourne Victory 4 (Archie Thompson, James Troisi, Gui Finkler, Mark Milligan) Wellington Phoenix 1 (Jeremy Brockie). HT: 3-0
Sunday Star Times