Newcastle Jets 1
Wellington Phoenix 0
Ernie Merrick's return to New Zealand has been a successful one – at the expense of the Wellington Phoenix.
Merrick's Newcastle Jets side eeked out a 1-0 victory over the Phoenix at QBE Stadium in Albany, with the former Phoenix manager sending the hosts to their sixth defeat in their last seven games.
Worse than that fact, perhaps, is the lack of goals they have generated during that rough patch. Since January 20, only Sarpreet Singh has scored for the Phoenix. His two goals, plus an own goal, make up the Phoenix's sole attacking production in the last seven encounters – a period in which they have also conceded 16 goals.
So, languished at the bottom of the ladder they remain, with four games to go in a season which is increasingly likely to finish with a wooden spoon.
Their impotency in front of goal continued tonight, but it wasn't for a lack of opportunities. For large chunks of the game, the Phoenix looked dangerous on the counter-attack, crafting chances and finding room to run. At the risk of using one of football's worst clichés, they "should have scored", firing 23 shots at the Newcastle goal, and on another night, they would have come away with three points.
The trio of Singh, Roy Krishna, and Nathan Burns created several opportunities, but they all went begging early on, with the final pass often missing, or an incisive run only being met by a raised flag for offside.
Their most promising moment came when Singh was released down the right, but his cross was inches in front of the diving lunge from Burns, who had the goal at this mercy.
Just when it looked like a goal would come, it did – but it was Newcastle, who went in front against the run of play, right before halftime.
Jason Hoffman's meandering run down the right bore fruit when his attempted shot rebounded straight back into his path, and he made no mistake when given a second chance, striking a volley which slipped past Tando Velaphi in the Phoenix goal.
Somehow, that was enough for victory, despite the Phoenix peppering the Newcastle goal in the second half.
Shot after shot went wide, with Burns spurning a glorious chance from right in front, before Krishna went through on goal but sidefooted wide.
In between the multiple wayward attempts at finishing, the Phoenix were continually found offside with regularity; their ambition not matched by their clinicality.
The Phoenix continued to throw numbers forward, and a 95th minute header from Dylan Fox was kept out by a fine save by Jets keeper Jack Duncan – denying the Phoenix once again, in what is becoming a season full of rejection.
Jets 1 (Hoffman)