With seemingly nothing to play for against a high-flying Brisbane, Wellington gave a good account of themselves in a game that had everything, as the Roar ran out 4-3 winners at Suncorp Stadium.
They say form is temporary but class is permanent, and former Socceroo Brett Holman showed that as he wound back the clock with two belting strikes to decide a see-sawing encounter on Sunday night.
With only pride on the line Phoenix offered moments of class for their faithful travelling fans, but were overrun on a choppy Suncorp pitch by a home side desperate to secure a home finals berth.
After the news that captain Andrew Durante had succumbed to a calf strain and with Dylan Fox and Matt Ridenton out injured Vince Lia was pressed into an unusual position alongside Marco Rossi in the heart of defence, and the experienced midfielder was immediately into the action shepherding the dangerous Jamie Maclaren wide in the opening minute.
After that early scare Wellington began to settle the better with Kosta Barbarouses and Roy Krishna looking lively, and it was the latter who opened the scoring in just the 6th minute, outmuscling youngster Cameron Crestani to a lofted Gui Finkler pass and slotting well past Michael Theo.
Minutes later Phoenix almost grabbed a second as Michael McGlinchey’s effort was scrambled off the line by Brandon Borello. And with their tails up, Wellington’s front players combined for what could have been one of the goals of the season.
Terrific interplay found Krishna, whose instinctive backflick found Barbarouses perfectly, who laid off to McGlinchey who then flicked up with his first touch before firing an unstoppable volley that clattered back off the crossbar.
Despite a bright start for the visitors it quickly became an end-to-end encounter with Lia then recovering well to clear a Borello pass intended for Maclaren off the line, before Roly Bonevacia stung Theo’s palms with a scorching drive from 25m out.
If that was well struck, it paled in comparison with the next effort as former Premier League star Holman thumped an absolute piledriver past Lewis Italiano in the Nix goals from similar distance to level the scoring – all this inside the first 21 minutes!
Brisbane then enjoyed a period of dominance with Italiano forced into three quick saves in three minutes from Thomas Kristensen, Borello and Holman.
If the hosts thought they were now on top they had another thing coming, as Phoenix turned the tables with a two-goal blitz in three minutes.
Krishna started the move, but it was McGlinchey who stood up his defender before picking out Finkler with a terrific cross, and the Brazilian made no mistake with the side-footed finish.
Just moments later it was Ryan Lowry who started another fine move drilling a ball to Finkler whose lofted cross put the Brisbane defence in all sorts of trouble – young Crestani missed his clearance and McGlinchey was on hand to tuck past Theo.
3-1 the halftime score.
If the first half had been frenetic, the second didn’t take long to match.
On a counter attack Thomas Broich picked out Borello, and perhaps given the instruction at half time by coach John Aloisi to shoot on site the wide forward did exactly that – curling a sharp effort into Italiano’s bottom-right-hand corner.
And Roar were level once more just minutes later as again Broich sparked the hosts picking out a flying Tommy Oar whose precise cutback found Maclaren amid a crowd of Wellington players. Brisbane’s lethal marksman needing no invitation, drilling a fine shot into the net to make it 3-3.
Phoenix refused to roll over with Bonevacia almost finding Krishna but his lofted pass was just too high for the Fijian to get much purchase on the header.
It was Krishna brilliantly found by McGlinchey just minutes later but on this occasion the 12-goal striker blasted straight at Theo.
In the 66th minute it was however the Roar who took the lead for the first time all game, as Holman turned back the clock to drill another tracer bullet from outside the box that left Italiano stranded.
With VAR in the stands but not called into action there was a moment of possible controversy in the 75th minute as Lia was penalised for a covering tackle inside the box on Maclaren which was deemed a foul, and saw the stand-in captain booked in the process.
Maclaren strode in looking for his 20th goal of the campaign but Italiano did well not just to block the effort, but to hold on to it.
Hamish Watson came on for a hard-working Finkler and quickly found himself in the wars – he was caught by Theo in a tangle for a high ball that saw the striker jar his knee.
He in turn was replaced by Adam Parkhouse but strive as they could Phoenix couldn’t find a way to equalise.
A seven-goal thriller to delight the neutrals.