A controversial second half penalty has seen the Wellington Phoenix remain outside the A-League's top six, going down 2-1 to Melbourne City at AAMI Park.

With the scores level at 1-1 after 70 minutes, Italian defender Marco Rossi tangled with City skipper Bruno Fornaroli in the penalty area and while both players were holding the shirt of the other, Rossi was deemed by referee Kurt Ams to have committed the indiscretion. Fornaroli slotted the resulting spot kick to give the hosts a 2-1 lead they never relinquished.

The Phoenix hadn't conceded a goal since shipping six in the same city against Victory four weeks ago, but had to withstand significant first half pressure, with pacy South Americans Fornaroli and Fernando Brandan to the fore. Only scrambling defence, last ditch tackles and some acrobatic goalkeeping from Glen Moss kept them at bay.

A good indication of City's first half dominance was the fact Moss was both Wellington's best and busiest player. A Melbourne City goal seemed inevitable, though, and arrived in the final minute of the first half, but not without some good fortune. Nick Fitzgerald cut in from the left and let fly, his shot deflecting off Rossi's back and looping over Moss into the net.

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At the other end, the most promising Phoenix moment was a half-hearted shout for a penalty after 12 minutes when Roy Krishna collided with City keeper Dean Bouzanis. The City custodian was largely unemployed until late in the first half when Krishna and Kosta Barbarouses fashioned half-chances.

The Phoenix showed much greater energy after the break and Barbarouses played a major part in the equaliser when City's Ivan Franjic tugged on his shirt as he drove into the penalty area. Ams pointed to the spot and while Krishna's penalty was saved, the Fijian netted the rebound for his fifth goal of the season.

If the Phoenix were aggrieved about the match-winning penalty, they were equally - and rightfully - annoyed by the number of bookings they received. While the fouls committed by each side were even, six Phoenix players were booked before any City player saw yellow. Gui Finkler was fouled nine times before Ams took any action.

Skipper Andrew Durante had a late chance to equalise, but was unable to make contact with a low cross from Hamish Watson.

The Phoenix next visit Adelaide United on Sunday evening.