Central Coast Mariners' firm hold on top spot shows little sign of slipping as last season's A-League wooden spooners eased to a routine 2-0 win over 10-man Wellington Phoenix.
Goals either side of the interval from Matt Simon and influential skipper Oliver Bozanic proved enough to lift the Mariners to a sixth win from eight outings on Sunday.
The New Zealanders, playing in their provisional Wollongong home at WIN Stadium, were partly architects of their own downfall with striker David Ball sent off for a needless challenge.
The Englishman fortunately made only part contact when he dived in on Simon, but the dangerous nature of the challenge was clear and referee Daniel Elder had no hesitation brandishing the red card.
It was another tough day out for the New Zealanders whose early-season form slump - they have now won just one of six matches - has been compounded by the absence of key attacker Tomer Hemed and further injury concerns.
Notably, the New Zealanders ended the match without either centre-backs with Josh Laws and Luke DeVere both forced off through injury.
"Until the send-off I thought we were OK, and even then their opportunities came from our mistakes," said Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay.
"We might have to adapt to the players we have available for the next game, but we have belief in what we are doing.