Football: Phoenix drop another game

When the Wellington Phoenix lose at home you know something is wrong.

So often during their short A-League history their Westpac Stadium fortress has helped them to victories but today's 2-0 loss to the Western Sydney Wanderers was a clear indication that this is a team who are struggling.

Anchored near the foot of the table the Phoenix have now dropped five of their past seven games and have registered only one win during that barren spell.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has tried to implement a more attacking style of play across the side in recent weeks and he has introduced young talent in the form of Tyler Boyd and Louis Fenton but nothing has worked for them this season.

Today's loss was a dire performance that lacked inspiration and quite often throughout the game you struggled to see where a goal would come from for the home side.

The game looked as though it was heading to a rare 0-0 draw but a crafty diving header from Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the 72nd minute helped his side towards the three points.

There were few more unlikely goal scorers on the pitch than Topor-Stanley and the centre back once went 88 A-League fixtures without finding the back of the net between 2007 and 2010.

Wanderers midfielder Aaron Mooy was the provider and his well-timed cross in to the box allowed Topor-Stanley to beat Ben Sigmund to the ball and stun the home crowd of 6608.

Sigmund and Phoenix goalkeeper Mark Paston then produced a mix-up at the back that allowed Wanderers striker Labinot Haliti to tap in from close range in the 82nd minute as the visitors made the game safe.

Paston had enjoyed a great day between the sticks during the first hour and a bit and he made a string of handy saves to keep the Wellingtonians in the game and it was hard to blame him completely for the miscommunication with Sigmund.

Paston's opposite number at the other end of the field, Ante Covic, was solid for the Wanderers and made one impressive diving save in the first spell to deny a Vince Lia attempt that seemed destined for the top corner.

Chances were few and far between for the Phoenix although Belgian import Stein Huysegems did rattle the crossbar with a left-footed thunderbolt in the 23rd minute, which could have sent Wellington's day down a different path.

Huysegems, Boyd, Fenton and Jeremy Brockie were industrious up front but they lacked cohesion and the Phoenix continued to rely on attacking down the flanks and knocking in crosses that the Wanderers dealt with comfortably.

The Phoenix needed to be more direct in their approach but struggled to break the Wanderers down through the middle of the pitch.

Admittedly the A-League newcomers are an organised defensive unit but the Phoenix need to offer more in the future if they want to pull themselves out of this slump and threaten a playoff berth.

Right now though the post-season looks a long way off and Herbert will need to fire up his troops if they want to ignite their faltering season in their next fixture, which comes against Sydney FC in Australia on Saturday night.

Western Sydney Wanderers 2 (Nikolai Topor-Stanley 72, Labinot Haliti 82) Wellington Phoenix 0 HT: 0-0

- Daniel Richardson of APNZ

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