Wellington Phoenix season all but over after loss to Western Sydney Wanderers
Someone call Porky Pig because it is time to say "that's all folks" to this Wellington Phoenix season.
While they remain a mathematical chance of making the Hyundai A-League playoffs, their poor display in a 3-1 loss to the Western Sydney Wanderers at Spotless Stadium on Sunday suggests they should be looking nervously down the table rather than hopefully up it.
The loss, combined with last-placed Adelaide United's controversial 2-1 win over Brisbane, sees them five points from both the top six and the wooden spoon.
There will be some statistics from the Wanderers game which Phoenix sympathisers might quote to make themselves feel better: 62 per cent possession, 532 completed passes with 86 per cent accuracy.
But having all that ball is pointless if you do nothing with it. Their attack continues to lack inventiveness, but of more concern was their shambolic effort at the back.
Credit to a slick Wanderers attack finally finding the back of the net, but the Phoenix's defensive structure was all too easy for them to exploit.
It started with left back Adam Parkhouse getting badly beaten by Jumpei Kusukami on a number of occasions in the first 10 minutes.
It was down that left side that a chance was created for Nico Martinez, who was found at the top of the box in the ninth minute to slot a cool finish to the bottom-right corner.
Parkhouse was under so much pressure because the Wanderers were able to work their way through the Phoenix midfield with absolute ease early on. In contrast, the Phoenix midfield could barely string two passes together during that time.
In the end, Parkhouse was dragged after just 30 minutes for first-choice left-back Tom Doyle with no apparent injury issue, although there were suggestions of a stomach bug.
If he was physically capable of continuing, the coaches, Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre, should have waited until halftime to take him off and saved some of his confidence. By that stage the Phoenix had got a foothold in the game and the pressure on Parkhouse had eased.
The Phoenix held possession well through those middles stages, but could fashion only a few half chances. They managed to keep the Wanderers at arm's length until the 39th minute.
That was when Brendon Santalab scored his sixth goal in his last four matches against the Phoenix. Wellington's defence was ripped open down the right side this time, with Mitch Nichols squaring for the experienced marksman to hammer home, although Phoenix goalkeeper Glen Moss got enough of a touch to be disappointed not to stop the shot.
Roly Bonevacia replaced Alex Rodriguez at halftime as the Phoenix looked to attack to try and salvage their season.
But the defence remained the issue as they conceded a third within three minutes of the restart.
Again the right side was exploited as a lack of organisation saw Wanderers fullback Jack Clisby charge down the right wing unimpeded. His cross found Martinez, who squared for Santalab to head home and heap more misery on Wellington.
Phoenix midfielder Gui Finkler scored from a freekick with 15 minutes to go which was nothing more than a consolation. The Wanderers had a heap of chances to extend their lead, but their familiar profligacy in front of goal returned.
Successful teams generally defend well. Look at A-League leaders Sydney FC, who have conceded just 11 goals in 23 games this season. Second-placed Melbourne Victory have allowed 27. The Phoenix have let in 18 in their last six games alone.
They've now got to play Newcastle next weekend without seven frontline players after Alex Rufer was added to the All Whites squad. Following that it's Victory away and Sydney at home, before playing Brisbane away to end the season.
AT A GLANCE
Western Sydney Wanderers 3 (Nico Martinez 9', Brendon Santalab 39' 48') Wellington Phoenix 1 (Gui Finkler 75') HT: 2-0.