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Phoenix blow to United’s premiership hopes

Western United are looking to regroup quickly after their A-League Men premiership aspirations suffered a serious blow in a 4-1 loss to Wellington Phoenix in Ballarat.

Needing a win to keep pressure on league leaders Melbourne City, second-placed United found themselves down 3-0 at halftime on Saturday afternoon thanks to goals from Scott Wootton, Jaushua Sotirio and Gael Sandoval.

Phoenix then absorbed Steven Lustica’s 54th-minute strike and added a second Sotirio goal to seal the win.

With 21 games played, United were eight points adrift of City, who were to play their 24th game on Saturday night against Melbourne Victory.

“At the moment, we’re not thinking about that,” said Western United coach John Aloisi of a potential 11-point deficit.

“We’re dealing with a bad loss and a heavy loss and it’s making sure that we still keep our heads held high.

“Because we’ve had a good season so far and we’ll keep fighting right to the end.

“I’m thinking more about let’s prepare well for the next two games (against Perth Glory and Macarthur next Saturday and the following Tuesday in Tasmania) to make sure that we recover well.”

Despite dominating the territory and possession battle across the opening half an hour, Wooten’s 29th-minute goal from a corner served as a gut punch for United.

Sotirio’s goal in transition and Sandoval’s penalty on the stroke of halftime then put the game out of reach.

Desperately needing a positive result of their own after losing their previous two games by a combined 11-0 scoreline, the win moved Phoenix back into fifth on the ALM table ahead of a mid-week meeting with Perth.

“We learn from our mistakes,” Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay said.

“Not the way I wanted to learn, conceding 11 goals in two games, but sometimes that needs to happen.

“Western United are a very good team, they defend well and we wanted them to come out so we could expose them in transition, and I think we did that very well today.”

After gaining notoriety for 1-0 wins at the start of the season, the four goals conceded mean United have now conceded 12 goals in their last five games – but Aloisi isn’t ringing alarm bells yet.

“Defensively you’re going to have moments in the season that things might go against you,” he said.

“We have to quickly get over it.”

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