‘Never seen them so petrified’ – Phoenix fail to capitalise on rare lead in Roar loss

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Up 2-0 against Brisbane Roar, Wellington Phoenix felt the weight of finally experiencing a lead, and this weight got the better of them in Sunday’s A-League Women clash.

Until yesterday, the Phoenix had not only never led a game this season, they had never led a game in their history.

So when Alyssa Whinham and Grace Jale put Wellington up 2-0 against Brisbane just 24 minutes in, the two goalscorers and their teammates should have been brimming with all sorts of confidence.

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But sadly for Wellington and their fans, finally having something to lose only made things worse. The young and inexperienced group soon found themselves beaten 3-2 after allowing Brisbane to stage a pretty straightforward comeback.

It took just 10 minutes for Wellington to fall back into some bad habits, yet again carelessly giving away the ball just outside of their own 15-yard box. Mariel Hecher made no mistake pulling back a goal, only increasing the pressure on a now tense and tentative Wellington side.

The second half was much the same as the Nix truly looked like a team that had never led in an A-League Women’s game. As well as a bunch of defensive mistakes, the Nix attack completely vanished as they failed to register another shot on goal in the game.  

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Wellington eventually gave up their precious lead altogether, falling 3-2 in what was the most painful loss so far during their inaugural and still winless season.

Credit should go to the Roar for staging the fantastic comeback, however, it was clear to anyone watching that Wellington began to struggle just moments after doubling their initial lead.

This response was not something that Nix coach Gemma Lewis was expecting, who spoke about her side’s reaction to leading post-game. 

“It was really interesting, I’ve never seen them so petrified,” she said.

“I thought it would be one of those moments where the goals would give them the confidence to grow into the game, but I think they looked more scared at half-time being up 2-1 than they were down five goals against Sydney.”

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Lewis believes that her side’s inexperience playing on the professional stage is the leading reason the pressure got to her young side. It was in fact the first time many of the players had been handed a lead while playing in a professional football game.

“They are still learning, it was a completely new experience being up in a match which meant they have never felt that pressure to get something out of one,” Lewis mentioned. 

“The lead did exactly what they thought it would, it was taken away from them.”

Despite the loss, coach Lewis explained that every professional sports player has to not only experience their first lead, but also their first time blowing one. She feels that next time her side finds themselves in a winning position they will act differently.

“Now that they have experienced being in front, hopefully when they get the chance to experience it again, they show more composure because they’ve now been in that winning position before,” she said. 

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On the other side of the result, Brisbane coach Garrath McPherson was extremely pleased with his team’s comeback, however, he also believes that a win for Wellington is just around the corner. 

“I think it’s absolutely just a matter of time before Wellington picks up a win, they will get on the board this year,” said McPherson.

It will now just be a waiting game for both Nix fans and players to see if this is in fact true. Either way, there is no doubt that this young group of footballers are becoming more experienced with every game they play.

This rollercoaster season for Wellington has now involved their first point, their first last-minute loss, their first heavy defeat, and now their first blown lead.

If they can in fact learn from these experiences, pressure may instead turn into determination and three points may just be a few weeks away.

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Feature image credit: Speed media 

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Harry Bartle
Harry is a young Journalist based in Wellington. He will be covering the Wellington Phoenix during the 2021/22 season for the Football Sack and has a love hate relationship with Ulises Davila

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