Michael Burgess

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

Soccer: Late heartbreak for Phoenix

Kenny Cunningham scored his first Phoenix goal but it wasn't enough to prevent a 2-1 loss to Sydney FC tonight. Photo / Getty
Kenny Cunningham scored his first Phoenix goal but it wasn't enough to prevent a 2-1 loss to Sydney FC tonight. Photo / Getty

Sydney FC 2
Wellington Phoenix 1

The wait for a win goes on - and it is hard to understand how.

The Phoenix should have won this match but instead leave Sydney with nothing, after conceding a 94th minute goal when they were pushing forward in search of a winning goal. It was a horrible way to lose, the kind that can define seasons.

The Wellington side had showed character to equalise in the 92nd minute through Kenny Cunningham, after dominating most of the second half. They will rue missing some gilt edged chances, especially to Jeremy Brockie and Vince Lia, while on several other occasions a poor final ball killed a promising build up.

The visitors were down to 10 men for the last 20 minutes, as the Phoenix laid seige to the Sydney end of the field. Cunningham made an impressive impact as a second half substitute and looks a good starting option for the coming weeks. The Phoenix look like a good team - and played some great football - but remain rooted to the bottom of the table.

The last time these two teams met was the infamous 7-1 defeat in January when Alessandro Del Piero grabbed four goals. There were only five Phoenix starters from that forgettable day - Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Jeremy Brockie, Vince Lia and Stein Huysegems - which accelerated Ricki Herbert's departure.

The Phoenix are one of the few A-League sides to play with two genuine strikers, but Brockie and Huysegems were often isolated from each other and neither striker has yet to adapt to the passing range of Carlos Hernandez.

Too often their runs were half a second too late - or too square - which enabled the Sky Blues defenders to deal with the danger.
Sydney goal keeper Vedran Janjetovic was also effective as a sweeper, cutting out the dangerous balls from Hernandez and second half substitute Paul Ifill.

The Phoenix started with a point to prove, or more specifically points to gain. They were quicker to the loose ball and created more in the opening 20 minutes, with Sydney restricted to counter attacks.

Durante and Sigmund were strong at the back, both determined to right the wrongs of the past week with the national side and Hernandez was finding room in midfield.

The Wellington side look a much more composed, skilful team than last season and the sight of them dominating possession for long periods away from home would have been unheard of in previous seasons. They should have been rewarded just after the half hour mark. From a precise through ball from Hernandez, Brockie horribly sliced his attempt from six yards with only the goal keeper to beat.

It hasn't been a great period for the usually prolific Brockie after his struggles against Mexico culminating in the missed penalty against El Tri last Wednesday.

Sydney made them pay almost immediately, with Richard Garcia unleashing a 20 metre strike from outside the area that gave Glen Moss no chance, after the defence was slow to close him down.

The goal came against the run of the play but didn't visibly deflate the Phoenix, who should have had a penalty a few minutes later. Jason Hicks made a strong run into the penalty area, only to be clearly brought down by Pedj Bojic. The referee waved play on.

Del Piero had his usual quota of magic touches, including one delightful chest control and shot that Juventus fans had become accustomed to over all the years at the Stadio delle Alpi. The second half was a more even contest, as the home side began to create more chances.

Bojic picked up a (deserved) second yellow card in the 73rd minute, leaving Sydney with ten men for the final 17 minutes. From the resulting free kick Lia defied all the laws of physics to miss a stooping header from four yards, with the goal at his mercy. Del Piero was replaced with in the 80th minute, as Wellington attacked the Sydney goal.

Cunningham volleyed a clever equaliser in the 92nd minute only for new Sydney signing Ranko Despotovic to stroke home the winner as the visitors pushed forward.The Phoenix host Western Sydney Wanderers next Sunday, before the longest trip in club football when they travel to Perth the following Friday.

Sydney 2 (R. Garcia, R. Despotovic)
Wellington 1 (K. Cunningham)
HT: 1-0

- Herald on Sunday

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