Sydney FC welcomed A-League soccer rivals Wellington Phoenix back to the real world in Sydney last night.
Fresh from the giddy heights of a thumping 6-0 triumph over Gold Coast a week ago, Wellington were rudely put in their place by a slick Sydney outfit who stayed atop the standings following a 3-1 win.
Wellington took plenty of confidence with them across the Tasman but it counted for little once Sydney warmed to their task, with the result done and dusted by halftime after the home side outclassed the visitors to lead 3-0.
A late goal by substitute Costa Barbarouses was just reward for Wellington's improved second half showing but they were left to rue Daniel's missed opportunity from the penalty spot.
The Phoenix's cause was not helped by the early loss of goalkeeper Mark Paston, who left the field with a suspected hip injury in just the eighth minute after colliding heavily with an attacker.
That has potential ramifications for New Zealand, with Paston the All Whites custodian and the national side preparing for a crucial World Cup qualifier at home against Bahrain on November 14.
Paston's understudy Reece Crowther was kept very busy as Sydney put their foot down, launching regular attacks as they pushed forward en masse.
Crowther could not be blamed for the three goals which Sydney put past him before the break with attacking midfielder Alex Brosque turning provider on each occasion.
Brosque firstly delivered a delicate flick on for Mark Bridge to expertly steer across Crowther and just inside the far post in the 17th minute.
The Phoenix enjoyed their best period of the half midway through the stanza when they finally built pressure via possession without asking serious questions of the Sydney defence.
But in the 31st minute Brosque slipped his way past Manny Muscat on the edge of the box to steer a low ball across the face of the goal. Crowther's dive and outstretched arm deflected the ball to the feet of Sydney captain Steve Corica, who was left with a simple tap-in.
Bridge's second goal just 4min later was no less strenuous as he, too, was left to tap home after Brosque used his pace to run around and past international defender Ben Sigmund before finding the unmarked Bridge at the far post.
Phoenix's plight did not lighten after the interval when they muffed an opportunity to get a goal back.
Sydney's Shannon Cole was penalised in the 61st minute for pulling on the shirt of Paul Ifill inside the box, but after finding the net with his initial strike Daniel was instructed to retake the penalty.
Referee Gerard Parsons ruled that a Phoenix player moved early before Daniel slotted the ball past goalkeeper Clint Bolton. Daniel's second attempt was less than convincing, a low shot to the left of Bolton being comfortably pulled in by the goalkeeper.
They had another chance in the 77th minute but substitute Tim Brown soared above the defensive line only to head harmlessly over the crossbar from a corner kick.
Barbarouses finally gave Wellington something to cheer about when he latched on to a Daniel cross in the 81st minute, driving the ball hard into the turf before a high bounce saw it elude Bolton.
Tonight's reverse left Wellington firmly planted near the foot of the standings.
Two wins from 12 matches and just 13 points leave them alongside fellow strugglers Brisbane and Newcastle ahead of home matches against Newcastle on Wednesday and Perth next Sunday.