A bizarre own goal by Nicky Ward helped Sydney FC beat the Wellington Phoenix 2-0 at the Sydney Football Stadium on Wednesday night.
The game was scoreless, though only because of some outstanding goalkeeping by Wellington-s Danny Vukovic, when young centre back James Musa upended Sydney striker Nicky Carle in the penalty area in the 64th minute.
Vukovic had been in such fantastic form for the previous hour that it was no surprise when he dived to his left and blocked Carle-s spot kick. Vukovic was up quickly to block Carle-s second attempt, but then could only watch in anguish as the ball hit Ward in the face and looped into the net.
Brendan Gan made it 2-0 11 minutes later and there was no way back for the Phoenix.
Despite the strange nature of Sydney-s opening goal there could be no denying they were by far the better team and would have won by a bigger margin but for Vukovic.
Despite being under-strength through the absence of central defenders Ben Sigmund and Andrew Durante, along with influential midfielders Vince Lia and Manny Muscat, the Phoenix did create chances and could have snatched something from the game, but that would have been harsh on a Sydney side playing without pressure after failing to make the Hyundai A-League playoffs.
Certainly Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert had no complaints about the final score, giving full credit to Sydney.
“Danny was outstanding and kept us in the game because Sydney were by far the better side,” Herbert said.
“I will be surprised if I don-t see his name in a Socceroo squad sometime soon.
“He was different class tonight, and made so many saves that I guess he was bound to cop one eventually, but he will be disappointed with the way it happened.
“We were missing a few key players tonight but you have to deal with it and we are not making excuses.”
The result leaves the Phoenix still needing a point from Sunday-s final regular season game against North Queensland Fury at the Westpac Stadium to make sure of a spot in the finals.
“We will go home, look after this group that has played three games in quick succession, and get some players back.
“There are two or three games before we play so we will know exactly what we have to do.”
Vukovic said he was sick about the way the first goal came but was pleased with the way he played.
“It is always nice to make some good saves in a game, but at the end of the day they meant nothing because we lost,” Vukovic said.
“We had a lot of pressure on us today. We rode our luck a bit in the first half and needed a goal to relieve the pressure.
Sydney FC 2 (N Ward own goal, Brendan Gan), Wellington Phoenix 0. HT: 0-0.