Second-half strikes from Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Labinot Haliti helped Western Sydney shore up their place in the top four and consigned Wellington to their third loss in a row
|By EMMA STONEY
The Wellington Phoenix have slumped to their third successive loss following a 2-0 defeat to Western Sydney Wanderers at a windy Westpac Stadium on Sunday.
Second-half goals from Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Labinot Haliti earned the Wanderers their first win in New Zealand and cemented them in fourth place on the A-League ladder.
It was the proverbial game of two halves, with the Phoenix dominant in the first 45 minutes but unable to make their many chances count.
The Wanderers took the game to the home side in the second half and made Ricki Herbert's side pay for their defensive lapses.
Topor-Stanley was unmarked for his low header in the 72nd minute, while Ben Sigmund was at fault for the Wanderers' second 10 minutes later.
The central defender got in the way of goalkeeper Mark Paston as he attempted to deal with Mark Bridge's ball into the box, which allowed Haliti to pounce.
The decision to start Shinji Ono on the bench - one of five changes made by coach Tony Popovic to his starting line-up - looked like it might bite the visitors as they struggled to create any meaningful opportunities in the first half.
The Phoenix could have been at least two or three goals to the good by half-time had they been able to convert their chances.
Stein Huysegems, playing slightly behind a front three of Tyler Boyd, Louis Fenton and Jeremy Brockie, could have had at least a couple of goals himself.
His first opportunity came as early as the sixth minute when he broke deep out of his own half and then under pressure from Topor-Stanley forced a smart one-handed save from Ante Covic.
Eight minutes later he headed wide then he rattled the crossbar with a stinging long-range shot in the 23rd minute.
Minutes earlier a poor pass back from Sigmund had been pounced on by Mark Bridge before Paston came to the rescue.
Having set up Huysegems for his crossbar rattler, Fenton decided to take on the Wanderers defence himself, turning Adam D'Apuzzo inside out before forcing Covic into action again.
Fenton was clearly starting to frustrate the visitors and in the 33rd minute Iacopo La Rocca found himself yellow carded for a clumsy challenge on the young Phoenix forward.
As half-time approached Covic pulled off another superb save - this time denying Vince Lia who unleashed a blistering long-range effort which the Wanderers keeper palmed away for a corner.
Popovic then believed his side had a genuine penalty shout when Sigmund cleaned up Bridge at the top of the box but referee Shaun Evans didn't even reach for his pocket.
The Wanderers started the second half strongly with Haliti getting two early chances - forcing a save from Paston with the first and skimming the side netting with his second.
On the hour, Paston was called into action again as he got a hand to a dipping Jerome Polenz strike.
Tempers flared as both teams looked for the breakthrough.
Western Sydney's returning skipper Michael Beauchamp and Dani Sanchez were booked in quick succession following clumsy challenges on Fenton and Aaron Mooy respectively.
Lia was then shown a yellow for taking down the young midfielder.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 72nd minute when Mooy's well-timed ball into the box found Topor-Stanley who got down low to head past Sigmund and Paston.
It was Mooy's last act as he was replaced by Ono with just under a quarter-of-an-hour left.
The visitors wrapped up the three points with eight minutes to go when the mix-up between Sigmund and Paston gifted Haliti his goal.