Sydney FC brought an emphatic end to the Wellington Phoenix’s four-game winning run and extended their own unbeaten away streak to 11 matches with a clinical 3-0 win at Westpac Stadium.
Without Nathan Burns and Michael McGlinchey, the Phoenix lacked a cutting edge up front and struggled to cope with Sydney’s high-tempo pressuring in the midfield exchanges.
The game was finished as a contest at half-time with the visitors 3-0 ahead and while both sides ended the game with ten men after Albert Riera and Shan e Smeltz saw red within minutes of each other in the second half, the Sky Blues were untroubled to collect all three points and move to within a point of the Phoenix at the top of the table.
1 -0 Jacques Faty (9 minutes)
The Phoenix failed to clear a right-wing corner, allowing Faty to cushion the ball on his thigh before volleying under Glen Moss’s body at his near post.
2-0 Shane Smeltz (28 minutes)
As the Phoenix pushed up, a scuffed shot from Chris Naumoff fell to an unmarked Smeltz six yards out. The master marksman was played onside by Matthew Ridenton and finished with aplomb to notch his 84th A-League goal.
3-0 Manny Muscat own-goal (40 minutes)
As the Phoenix struggled to deal with another corner, a goal-mouth scramble ensued. Sebastian Ryall poked the ball goalwards with Muscat getting the final touch to deflect it past his own ‘keeper.
With many of the crowd still taking their seats, Joel Griffiths seized upon a defensive error and found himself one-on-one with Vedran Janjetovic. His side-footed finish was beaten away by the Sydney FC custodian, denying the home side what would have been a lead inside sixty seconds.
Opta Data key stats
Even without Marc Janko, Sydney FC fashioned plenty of chances – 17 to the Phoenix’s six.
The Phoenix had more possession and played over 100 more passes than Sydney FC, but were unable to find the incisiveness that has been a hallmark of their play this season.
Nikola Petkovic relished the opportunity to become more involved in the attacking third and made regular forays down the left flank. Further ahead Bernie Ibini again showed his liking for playing against the Phoenix with a number of dangerous runs.
It’s tough to come back from 3-0 down with 11 men; with ten, it’s virtually impossible. Albert Riera became the first Phoenix player to be sent from the field this season after picking up a second yellow card midway through the second half.
Phoenix veteran Vince Lia left the field with twenty minutes to go with a hamstring injury, placing him in doubt for the visit of Melbourne Victory on Easter Sunday.
Back to the drawing board
Graham Arnold got his tactics spot on against a Phoenix side that has controlled the midfield exchanges in most of their games this season. The way his side harried and hassled from the first whistle to the last may provide a blueprint for teams who meet the Phoenix from here on. Ernie Merrick needs to find a way to allow his passing game to continue, even under extreme opposition pressure. Getting Burns and McGlinchey back will certainly help.
The Final Word
Sydney FC totally deserved their win in Wellington. Shorn of the attacking threats of Nathan Burns and Michael McGlinchey and unable to dominate the midfield exchanges as they have so often this season, the Phoenix can have few complaints.
Sydney FC showed their loss to Melbourne City last weekend was nothing more than a blip as they climbed into a tightly congested top three. While Smeltz’s straight red card may see him miss three matches, the return of Marc Janko will more than compensate as the Sky Blues eye a top-two finish.