With his side desperately needing all the points to keep pace with the A-League's top six, Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold admits he still can't figure out how his side slumped to one of their worst losses of the season.
The Sky Blues' season is on the edge of falling apart after the 3-1 defeat to Wellington Phoenix at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, leaving Perth Glory in the box seat to take the sixth place in the finals series.
Sydney's finals hopes in tatters
Wellington cause a boil over in Sydney. Three first-half goals enough to embarrass Graham Arnold's men.
The result was sealed inside the opening 13 minutes, with the Phoenix grabbing goals to Blake Powell and Hamish Watson that blew Sydney's already flaky confidence apart.
When Roly Bonevacia added another before half-time, Arnold admitted later that such a horrendous start made it impossible for his team to recover.
"The first 30 minutes was poor and I don't know where it came from. That's the hardest thing," he said. "We had a good week at training, we got four boys back from suspension.
"That first 30 minutes was what made it really difficult for ourselves and after that we were probably the better side and we did well in the second half but you can't do that [concede a big start] in the A-League."
When asked if he could work out why his defence had become so porous of late, Arnold was at a complete loss.
"If you can find out, can you please tell me – because it's something I'm dumbfounded with," he said.
"Because, at the end of the day, we don't practice that, and we know that Wellington try to get the ball in between the lines, in the back of the midfield, and you have to try and stop that.
"There was two warning signs before [the first goal] that, which [Vedran] Janjetovic saved. But we didn't heed the warning."
Compounding the result was the sight of Milos Ninkovic going down early in the match with what appears to be a season-ending ankle injury, meaning they'll be without him and captain Alex Brosque, who has a torn hamstring, for the run home.
"[It's] probably season over. To lose Ninkovic, whose been outstanding this year, is a tough blow for both competitions – the A-League, but also the Champions League," Arnold said.
"We're not having much luck, over the whole season. Losing Alex Brosque, obviously, is a blow, and I threw a lot of faith in Alex Brosque at the start of the season to be our number nine and I think he's played eight games this season."
Still, Arnold hasn't lost all hope his side can somehow turn their campaign around and make the finals.
They also have to balance Asian Champions League commitments, which continue against Pohang Steelers in Korea on Wednesday night, before playing Central Coast in Gosford next Saturday night.
"There's four games to go and 12 points available," he said. "And if you get 42 points, I still think you'll get top four."
Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick said he was delighted at how his team held on after making such a positive start, although he did admit he felt Sydney were there for the taking because of their Asian commitments.
"The boys were dying in the end but we got the jump in the first half-hour and scored three good goals and maybe could have got a fourth. We sat on it at the end and did what we had to do," he said. "It was just so good to see them do so well and be so clinical up front."