WESTERN SYDNEY'S march up the A-League ladder shows no signs of slowing as the Wanderers moved to within a point of third place with a convincing win in windy Wellington on Sunday.
The Phoenix dominated the first half but were made to pay for two costly second-half defensive errors in a 2-0 loss at Westpac Stadium.
Centre-back Nikolai Topor-Stanley was an unlikely goal-scorer with a diving 72nd-minute header before striker Labinot Haliti capitalised on a Phoenix howler 10 minutes later to seal the three points.
The game followed a similar pattern to the previous loss against Melbourne Victory as the ninth-placed Phoenix played nice football in the first half but failed to get any reward.
The Wanderers were lethargic in the first half but coach Tony Popovic made a good tactical adjustment at the break.
Suddenly the visitors pressed high defensively and the Phoenix back four - still learning how to play the ball out - began to make errors.
First, the Phoenix were again punished for not marking tightly enough.
Topor-Stanley got in front of Ben Sigmund to meet an Aaron Mooy cross with an excellent, low header.
If the crowd of 6608 were stung by that, they were dismayed by the Wanderers' second.
Mark Bridge sent in a cross from the left wing which should have been dealt with easily but Sigmund and Mark Paston made a meal of it.
Sigmund held off dealing with the danger as he expected his goalkeeper to collect the ball but it never happened.
Instead, Haliti nipped in for an easy tap-in as the impressive competition rookies tightened their hold on fourth place.
Coach Ricki Herbert said the Phoenix would remain committed to their new style of play despite slumping to a third successive loss.
Herbert was asked if qualifying for the finals was still realistic given the difficulties of adjusting to a possession-based style mid-season.
''Well we're not going to change, I think that directive has been put out there, and I've been very supportive of that,'' Herbert said. ''We've just got to get better at it. We're playing differently and we either go back to long ball or we keep going so it's a tough one for the players because I think there's a balance of time of getting that right. But every week we've got the challenge of winning a football match and the Siggy of old probably wouldn't have let that bounce or got into any confusion with Mark. But he's elected to do something differently.''
Next up for the Phoenix is a visit to fellow strugglers Sydney FC on Saturday.
Herbert said Ian Hogg and injured duo Paul Ifill and Glen Moss would all get game time midweek, with new signing Hogg putting real heat on Tony Lochhead at left-back.