Walmsley: Mariners 'devastated' by Phoenix loss

Newly appointed Central Coast Mariners coach Tony Walmsley was philosophical after watching his side give up a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 to the Phoenix in Wellington.

An injury-time goal from substitute Kenny Cunningham denied the Mariners a share of the points in a game they led 2-0 going into the final 25 minutes.

“You feel for the players because they’re obviously devastated," Walmsley said.

“It’s too soon to reflect on what went wrong but obviously with and without the ball in the second half, we had problems. At no time did we want to be sitting as deep as we were. We’re trying to play a proactive, higher line and press earlier and we knew from the first half, they work very well in midfield to get numerical superiority around the ball so it’s important that the extra man goes in to make up the numbers.

“If you don’t get it right they can come tearing at you. They’ve got some good players and they did that very well.”

But Walmsley praised the character of his squad who are playing for little more than pride in the final few games of the season.

“I don’t think there’s ever nothing to play for. They’re professional sportsmen. They’ve got a real appetite to be challenged. They’re in a development phase and under a new manager so there’s plenty for them to go out and try to work on," he said.

“Getting them up for games is really not an issue. The biggest challenge will be developing a level of sophistication in how we keep the ball. In that situation, there was never an intention to shut up shop and defend the lead but what we needed to be was bold in possession and try to run them out of steam, but it wasn’t to be.”

Walmsley singled out teenager Anthony Kalik for special praise.

“He played without fear. He’s 17 years old, but he’s got pace, he’s got an intent to drive at defenders and put himself into goalscoring opportunities. At training he’s been fantastic as well," he said.

"Without a recognised and fully fit number nine we’ve tried a couple of people there and he’s done really well.”

The Mariners wrap their season away to Melbourne Victory next Sunday.