The Phoenix revival couldn't last. After their stunning win over the Western Sydney Wanderers last week, the Wellington side fell to a 3-2 defeat last night in Newcastle. It means any playoff aspirations - which were extremely slim at best before this match - are surely gone. But this was another heartening performance, a much better display than what we have seen for most of this year so far, on the back of Friday's long awaited A-League license extension for the Wellington franchise.
The match turned in the 70th minute. With the scored locked at 2-2, Phoenix striker Hamish Watson was sent off after incurring his second yellow card. It was unfortunate for Watson, who had earlier scored two well taken goals as the visitors twice held the lead.
The Jets scored their third goal a few minute later and were good enough to hang on to their advantage, despite some promising Phoenix moments in the last 10 minutes. Newcastle are a limited team - and have only won five of their last 25 home games - but imports Leonardo and Morten Nordstrand made the difference.
But there were positives for the Phoenix. They created plenty of chances, looked fairly solid at the back and saw Ben Sigmund make his return from long term injury.
Newcastle have managed a good recent record over the Phoenix, and had won the last two matches despite being reduced to 10 men on both occasions. But historically the Phoenix have enjoyed playing the Novocastrians; they have scored more goals and had more wins against Newcastle than any other A League opponent.
From the start, Ernie Merrick's team looked secure in possession and threatening on attack. It was no surprise when they took the lead, though Watson showed good composure to finish at the near post from a narrow angle in the 22nd minute, after a corner was flicked on. They couldn't hold their advantage for long, conceding a bizarre goal three minutes later, continuing their erratic season at the back. A fairly innocuous Jets cross was turned into his own net by Andrew Durante, who got his body position completely wrong in the six yard area. Watson restored the visitor's advantage in the 37th minute, after a perfect slide rule pass from Roly Bonevacia created the opening.
Newcastle lifted their level in the second half, with Danish import Nordstrand making an immediate impact on his A League debut. Nordstrand, who has played eight times for his country and was once the subject of a record transfer between two Danish clubs, looked a class act. After almost creating a goal with a bewitching cross, he equalised in the 53rd minute with a lovely curling shot from outside the area. Watson then undid all his good work with a second yellow card for kicking the ball away in the 70th minute - it was harsh, but also stupid - which left the Phoenix with an uphill struggle.
Nordstrand's clinically finished his second three minutes later, after Manny Muscat had failed to track the Danish player. Ben Sigmund made his long awaited return in the 80th minute - his first game since round nine, and added some impetus in an unusual right full back role, as the Phoenix pushed until the end.
Newcastle 3 (A Durante own goal, M Nordstrand 2)
Wellington Phoenix 2 (H Watson 2 goals)