By Jason Pine
The A-League's inaugural international break can't come soon enough for Mark Rudan.
The Wellington Phoenix coach will need every day of the fortnight at his disposal to arrest a worrying slide in his side's fortunes which saw them slump to a 2-0 loss away at Melbourne City.
The scoreline doesn't necessarily show it, but Wellington were dominated for a second straight game. City were hungrier and far more efficient and after such a promising start to the season, the Phoenix have now been largely disappointing in consecutive matches and are in danger of drifting through another mediocre campaign.
Rudan has a clear strategy, particularly away from home, setting up to make it difficult for opposition sides to penetrate a stacked defence. The downside is that possession is largely yielded and attacking opportunities are few and far between.
That was certainly the case at AAMI Park. Wellington were wasteful with the little ball they did have, struggling to create meaningful chances or placing any consistent pressure on an opponent with easily enough quality to play keep-ball for long periods.
As they did last week, Wellington fell behind early. In just the ninth minute, Belgian utility Ritchie De Laet fired a 22-yard right-footed thunderbolt past Filip Kurto after City had taken advantage of some sloppy defending down the Phoenix's right.
Despite that, they continued to sit deep, ceding the vast majority of first half possession to their hosts, allowing City to build confidence through passing and ball control, without actually creating too many clear-cut chances. De Laet had a chance to double the lead, but his snap-shot drew a smart save from Kurto.
At the other end, there was very little for Wellington fans to enthuse about, with the brightest Phoenix moment a Sarpreet Singh free-kick which was comfortably tipped over by Eugene Galekovic. It was to be their only shot on target.
City should have increased their advantage late in the first half, with an out-of-sorts Bruno Fornaroli denied one-on-one by Kurto, before Dylan Fox cleared Florin Berenguer's follow-up off the line. But the second goal duly arrived on the hour mark with Fornaroli curling a precise effort past Kurto's despairing dive into the top right-hand corner.
It was only then the Phoenix displayed some front-half urgency, but by then it was too late. Rudan went to his bench, handing an A-League debut to Polish midfielder Michal Kopczynski, but his impact was limited as City comfortably closed out the contest.
Wellington next host Adelaide United on November 24.
Melbourne City 2 (De Laet 9, Fornaroli 59)
Wellington Phoenix 0