Sydney FC faces Top Six 'battle' after 1-0 loss

Sydney FC are locked in a four-week battle for a place in the Hyundai A-League top six after suffering a 1-0 loss to 3rd-placed Wellington Phoenix at the Sydney Football Stadium tonight.

Sydney FC are locked in a four-week battle for a place in the Hyundai A-League top six after suffering a 1-0 loss to 3rd-placed Wellington Phoenix at the Sydney Football Stadium tonight.

The Sky Blues dominated shots on target (21 to 7), possession (58% to 42%) but lost the tally that counts - goals!

Goalkeeper Mark Paston was the hero for the visitors, making several great saves and Wellington took all three points thanks to a Paul Ifill goal on the counter attack in the 13th minute.

The Sky Blues played some good football but lacked a cutting edge in front of goal and one massive positive for Sydney FC was the return to the field - and top form - of teenage midfielder Terry Antonis, who was superb in his 25 minute cameo off the bench.

Sydney FC kept an unchanged starting line up from the last-start 2-1 win over Adelaide United although Antonis and Nathan Sherlock were elevated to the substitute bench at the expense of Shannon Cole and Jamie Coyne. They were joined by teenage striker Mitch Mallia as substitutes.

Sydney FC started the brightest with some fight in midfield by Terry McFlynn and Hiofumi Moriyasu creating chances for Bruno Cazarine and Joel Chianese that brought good saves from Paston inside the first five minutes.

The Sky Blues were playing with some width, using Scott Jamieson and Brett Emerton well down the flanks and a Jamieson cross in the 8th minute was met by a Cazarine header that forced another good save from a busy Paston.

However it was Wellington that scored first with Paul Ifill finding the back of the net with a bullet header from a Tony Lochhead cross in the 13th minute. It was Wellington-s first foray into the Sydney FC penalty area but heralded the opening goal - and ultimately the only goal of the game.

Sydney continued to push forward and should have been awarded a penalty in the 23rd minute when replays showed that Paston made contact with Chianese after he had played the ball past the ‘keeper. Chianese was instead shown a yellow card.

Sydney FC did allow Wellington some chances as the half progressed but had control of possession and looked the most dangerous. That was illustrated in the 33rd minute when they kept the ball well, moved it from side to side and after sustained possession a shot from Carle flashed just wide.

The Sky Blues had another golden chance in the 43rd minute, this time Paston made a strong double save to deny Cazarine, who should have scored with a header from an Emerton cross but then had his second effort saved by Paston-s feet.

After the half time break Sydney continued to dominate possession and did manage to get in behind the Wellington defence but it was Ifill who had a great chance, toeing the ball just wide in the 51st minute with only Necevski to beat.

The second half was a very open affair with both teams pushing forward. Sydney FC had a sustained period of dominance when they had eight corners in succession but a combination of good goalkeeping and poor options kept the Phoenix in front.

At the other end, Wellington was happy to play on thecounter and if not for a great save from Necevski, who had very little to do all game, in the 63rd minute Wellington could have doubled its advantage.

Antonis made a popular return from injury when he replaced Moriyasu in the 68th minute as Sydney looked for more of a cutting edge in attack and he made a difference, coming within inches of an equaliser in the 79th minute with a left foot shot from outside the area.

As late as the 91st minute, Paston made another important save, blocking a goalbound Michael Beauchamp header from point blank range and Beauchamp then missed an open goal in dying seconds to consign the Sky Blues to a 1-0 defeat.

Sydney FC now switches its attention to the Central Coast Mariners next Saturday night at Bluetongue Stadium before returning to the Sydney Football Stadium for the “Big Beyond Blue” against Melbourne Victory on Saturday March 10.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Paul Ifill 13) d Sydney FC 0 Sydney Football Stadium Crowd: 10,165 Referee: Peter Green

Sydney FC: 20. Ivan Necevski, 4. Pascal Bosschaart, 5. Michael Beauchamp, 6. Hirofumi Moriyasu (17. Terry Antonis ‘68), 7. Brett Emerton, 9. Bruno Cazarine, 10. Nick Carle, 15. Terry McFlynn (c), 16. Joel Chianese (24. Mitch Mallia ‘75), 21. Scott Jamieson, 23. Rhyan Grant (22. Nathan Sherlock ‘89). Sub not used: 1. Liam Reddy. Yellow cards: Joel Chianese 23, Michael Beauchamp 64. Red cards: Nil

Wellington Phoenix: 1. Mark Paston, 2. Manny Muscat, 3. Tony Lochhead, 6. Tim Brown, 7. Leo Bertos (24. Alex Smith ‘78), 8. Paul Ifill, 9. Chris Greenacre (14. Mirjan Pavlovic ‘83), 17. Vince Lia, 18. Ben Sigmund, 21. Daniel Sanchez (12. Nick Ward ‘68), 22 Andrew Durante (c).

Sub not used: 20. Anthony Warner (gk). Yellow cards: Vince Lia 67. Red cards: Nil