Wellington Phoenix again paid the penalty for starting slowly when they were beaten 3-2 by Melbourne Victory before more than 23,000 people at Etihad Stadium on Monday night.
As had been the case in the 1-1 draw with grand finalists Western Sydney Wanderers in their previous away game, it took the Phoenix 30 minutes to get going and, unfortunately, the clinical Victory strike force made them pay with three goals in the first 31 minutes.
Archie Thompson and James Troisi, twice, found the net for the hosts as the quicksilver Victory strike force took advantage of the Phoenix playing a too high offside line.
Jeremy Brockie pulled a goal back for the Phoenix in the 37th minute after being put clear by a sublime pass from Carlos Hernandez, and Stein Huysegems thought he had cut the deficit further right on halftime only be be judged offside in a close call.
The second half belonged to the Phoenix who played the ball around well and it was no more than they deserved when substitute Paul Ifill reduced the deficit to 2-3 in the 84th minute.
Ifill’s goal produced a frenetic last few minutes in which the Phoenix three times went close to getting an equaliser.
While ruing the slow start Phoenix head coach Ernie Merrick took solace from his side’s great fightback.
“For 30 minutes we gave the game to the opposition, found ourselves 0-3 down and it could have been worse,” Merrick said.
“It was just our offside line that was the problem. We were playing too high and taking too many risks.
“I knew I could fix it easily but I couldn’t get the message across to the players because it was too noisy and they were focussed on their jobs.
“I sorted it at halftime and that is when we really started playing.
“At no time did I think about changing personnel because we were playing good football despite the scorelline.
“I fixed it at halftime and from then on we probably played our best football of the year.
“It would have been an amazing comeback had we grabbed an equaliser, which was always on, and it shows our fitness and confidence is good.
“Coming from three down and looking like getting a point was first class. I’ve been with teams that would have blown it and lost by 6 or 7.
“Not these boys. They are full of character.
“There is no doubting the quality of the Victory team.
“Their attacking players are very strong and quick. They are expensive high-quality players who have been together for a while.”
Merrick said among the positives to take from the game was the performance of right back Louis Fenton who was playing in the position for the first time after missing the opening three games with a dislocated shoulder.
“Reece Caira also showed what he is capable of, while as usual Sigmund, Durante and Moss were solid,” he said.
“Albert Riera, in his first start, played the ball around well and it was good to see players like Paul Ifill make an impact off the bench.
“The biggest message of the night though was the fact that we can’t keep starting slowly, and definitely not giving three goals away in the first half hour .”