Western United has tasted defeat in its first match of 2022, going down 2-1 to Wellington Phoenix in Wollongong.
Western United boasted a near fully-fit squad for its return to action, with three changes from the last match on Boxing Day against Melbourne Victory.
Aleksandar Prijovic returned to the starting XI up front, while captain Alessandro Diamanti led the team out once again and Ben Garuccio took his place at left-back.
Wellington was able to control the majority of the possession in the opening stages, but Western United had a big chance when Connor Pain was played in down the left-hand side.
The No.11 failed to pick out a runner in the area with his cross, and Wellington would punish the visitors in the 16th minute.
Some miscommunication at the back allowed the ball to fall for Gary Hooper, who teed up Phoenix debutant Gael Sandoval to open the scoring.
United began in search of an equaliser and started edging closer and closer to Wellington’s goal. Diamanti had three efforts at goal, the third of which was so nearly a spectacular long-range strike as it whistled over the crossbar.
Lachie Wales hit the target and Prijovic drew an outstanding save from Alex Paulsen, but for all of United’s efforts it was Wellington that added another goal to the match before half-time.
After a scramble in midfield, Wellington came out with the ball and Alex Rufer threaded Hooper in behind, who wrong-footed Jamie Young with a finish into the bottom left corner.
The second period played out in match the same fashion as the first, with United having the better of the territory but failing to find the finishing touch in front of goal.
Wales had another opportunity with a nice run into the box culminating in a shot that was blocked at close quarters.
The chance of the match fell to Diamanti just past the hour mark when he was picked out in the area by Pain. The Italian’s left-footed half-volley flew just wide of the left-hand post, leaving the skipper visibly frustrated.
Hooper scored a third for Wellington but he was correctly flagged for offside before Young was called upon to make a great diving save with around 10 minutes to play.
Western United continued to push for a goal and substitute Christian Theoharous drew another fantastic stop from Paulsen, as it became more and more clear that it wasn’t to be for the Green and Black on the night.
That was even more apparent as the match went into injury time, with Tomoki Imai receiving a straight red card after a VAR review for a last-man challenge.
But Steven Lustica gave United one last glimour of hope with a goal moments later. Theoharous showed great skill to tee him up in the box, and the No.10 fired a goal into the roof of the net.
It would be just a consolation though as the final whistle sounded soon after as United succumbed to its third defeat of the season.