Football: Wellington Phoenix coach vents frustration with late game defence in heartbreaking A-League loss to Central Coast

Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano hasn't hidden his disappointment with how his side conceded a stoppage-time winner during their crucial 2-1 loss to Central Coast Mariners on Saturday night.    

The Mariners moved past Wellington Phoenix at the top of the Isuzu A-League ladder with three rounds to play thanks to a 91st-minute goal by Brazilian fullback Mikael Doka.   

Having fought back from a goal down, Wellington were in a prime position to remain three points clear of the Mariners with a draw, however, Doka quickly shut the door on that scenario.  

The Brazilian was left to dribble relatively unmarked to the top of the box before curving a stunning left-foot shot past the outstretched hand of Phoenix keeper Alex Paulsen to secure the vital win.    

Having conceded the least goals this season, Italiano wasn’t happy with the sudden lapse in concentration, saying it was unlike his side to allow a free shot at such a crucial moment. 

Giancarlo Italiano during the match between Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix
Giancarlo Italiano during the match between Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix Photo credit: Getty Images

"I don't think we've conceded a goal like that all year, especially top of the box," Italiano told media post-match. "We usually defend that very, very well so I was really disappointed with that.  

"I just think it was little moments, little loose balls that we could have won, ones that we could have come across and covered.   

"The goal they scored, it's a moment and it's massive."    

The result sees Central Coast and Wellington tied on 46 points with three rounds remaining. Central Coast currently reside above the Nix thanks to having one more win during the season. 

After winning the A-Leauge last season, the Mariners also have to juggle their AFC Cup commitments, including a trip to Kyrgyzstan, during the remaining rounds.   

Despite the disappointing loss, Italiano insists the race for the Premier's Plate, what would be Wellington's first silverware, is far from over.   

"There's still a lot to play for this season."   

"The Mariners still have to win those three games. They have to travel halfway across the world, so they have to deal with those variables and we still have to win our games.  

Wellington also have their own obstacles to overcome. Their remaining fixtures are harder than the Mariners, including hosting third-placed Melbourne Victory at Sky Stadium on Friday night.    

"Our focus will be Victory and we expect a big turnout with fans... they'll also be trying to hunt down top two spots so for us the focus will just be on that game and we'll see what happens," said Italiano.   

The Nix will be boosted by the return of inspirational captain Alex Rufer for the contest, after the midfielder completed his one-match ban for a red card he received during Wellington's 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar