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Sydney FC striker Adam Le Fondre and Wellington Phoenix defender Tim Payne compete for a header.
Wellington Phoenix have lost three A-League Men games in a row for the first time since the very start of coach Ufuk Talay’s tenure.
And to make matters worse, they have also lost starting goalkeeper Oli Sail to a hip flexor injury that will see him miss Wednesday’s FFA Cup quarterfinal.
Sail had to be replaced midway through the first half of Sunday’s uninspiring 2-1 defeat to Sydney FC at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, handing an unexpected debut to 19-year-old Alex Paulsen.
To Paulsen’s credit, he looked at home on the professional stage and made a series of smart saves when called into action in the first half.
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But this was one of the Phoenix’s worst performances of the season, second only to last week’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Newcastle Jets.
They looked lost for ideas on attack and managed only one shot on target until Ben Old and Nicholas Pennington replaced captain Alex Rufer and Jaushua Sotirio and provided a much-needed spark.
Old got the assist on Ben Waine’s 83rd minute goal, which set up a grandstand finish.
But the Phoenix could not materialise an equaliser and were left to lament a poor first half.
“I think our first half performance was not up to standard but the second half was a lot better,” Talay said.
“The boys gave us some energy and we created a few opportunities to get in behind but didn’t capitalise, so we’ll take some learnings from the first half and take some positives from the second half.”
Talay said he was particularly disappointed by the way the Phoenix conceded the two goals.
They left Elvis Kamsoba completely unmarked on the opening goal, scored in the 19th minute. Tim Payne was caught napping when Harry van der Saag headed the ball back across goal following a Joel King cross from the left, allowing Kamsoba to score past Sail with a powerful finish.
Rufer then offered up little resistance as Anthony Caceres charged through midfield and despite having enough men back to cover, the Phoenix left Adam Le Fondre open on the right to score a second in the 57th minute.
“We gave Sydney two goals. We could’ve dealt with the first one a lot better, and even in the transition one in the second half, we could have dealt with that a lot better, but we didn’t and it becomes an uphill battle against Sydney when you are 2-0 down.”
Waine’s goal came following a Reno Piscopo free-kick. The ball was cleared but only as far as Old at the edge of the 18 yard box and he managed to hook the ball through a crowd of bodies towards Waine, who beat the offside trap, swizzled on the spot and slotted home.
Old was involved in another positive sequence which almost saw the Phoenix equalise at the death.
After Nicholas Pennington stole possession, Piscopo played a neat one-two with Old on the edge of the area, but Piscopo’s shot was tame and easily saved.
The result has left the Phoenix languishing in 10th place on the table, nine points below leaders Macarthur, who overcame a red card to goalkeeper Filip Kurto’s to stun Newcastle Jets 2-1 in Sunday’s other game.
The Phoenix are back in action against Melbourne City in the FFA Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday, where once again Talay will be demanding a response following another disappointing performance.
Paulsen will start in goal but Talay said it was too early to know how many other games Sail would miss. A goalkeeper from the academy would likely be flown over to provide cover.
“He will miss the cup game, we know that for sure. But once we get the scan done it will give us a clearer picture.”
Forward Oskar van Hattum also made his A-League Men debut as a late sub.
Sydney FC 2 (Elvis Kamsoba 19’, Adam Le Fondre 57’) Wellington Phoenix 1 (Ben Waine 83’)