Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Seven not heaven for Nix

Alessandro Del Piero (right) scored four for Sydney last night. Photo / Getty Images
Alessandro Del Piero (right) scored four for Sydney last night. Photo / Getty Images

Once upon a time, the Phoenix were renowned as having one of the best defences in the A-League. Right now, that seems an outrageous fairy story.

Despite having many of the same personnel, the Wellington side have simply forgotten how to defend. They conceded any momentum through poor finishing of their own and were victims of a questionable penalty decision and an Alessandro Del Piero masterclass - but it is hard to offer excuses for a first-half horror show.

Sydney's four goals within the first 29 minutes was the fastest quartet in A-League history. The Sky Blues had five by halftime, something done only once before in the seven years of the A-League and the Italian's treble was only the fifth first half hat-trick in A League history. The final score is their worst result, outstripping a 6-1 loss to Adelaide.

The defeat leaves the Phoenix rooted to the bottom of the table and comes at the worst possible time as they commence a marketing campaign to fill Eden Park in two weeks. It will increase the pressure on coach Ricki Herbert who looks out of ideas and inspiration, though the return of Paul Ifill in coming weeks (he played 25 minutes yesterday) will help.

After producing a couple of early half chances, they fell behind in the 11th minute. Del Piero produced a perfect defence-splitting pass and Sydney debutant Joel Griffiths slid the ball underneath Mark Paston. They tried to respond - Stein Huysegems should have tucked home at the far post while Jeremy Brockie wasted a free header - before Del Piero doubled Sydney's lead, producing a wicked dummy to outfox Sigmund before finding the top corner of Paston's net.

The visitors were unlucky to concede a third after the inexplicable penalty decision, when Andrew Durante and Jason Culina tangled harmlessly in the Phoenix area. Del Piero buried the penalty and two minutes later Culina swept home a half-volley, after being left in space by the out of sorts Tony Lochhead. The Phoenix continued to attack and create chances - Huysegems was again wasteful - but Sydney looked dangerous every time they entered the Wellington half. There was some respite for the visitors before Del Piero notched his hat-trick. Del Piero turned Leo Bertos inside out before blasting home. Del Piero notched his fourth, and possibly the best, with an arcing finish into the top corner after a series of delightful feints to beat his marker.

Phoenix 1 (B. Sigmund 79) Sydney 7 (J. Griffiths 11, A. Del Piero 21, 23 pen, 39, 70, J. Culina 26, Y. Yau 83). Halftime: 5-0.

- Herald on Sunday

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