Wellington Phoenix ended a difficult week with a rare victory after downing Melbourne Heart 1-0 in Dunedin.
A 19th-minute Jeremy Brockie goal was enough to see off a lacklustre Heart outfit whose Hyundai A-League playoff hopes took a hit thanks to their seventh successive defeat on the road.
Wellington, who had managed just five wins prior to this match at Forsyth Barr Stadium, finished the game with 10 men after Stein Huysegems, who came into the starting line-up for Louis Fenton, was sent off for a second bookable offence.
But in truth the Belgian’s departure made little difference, coming late in the game which the Phoenix dominated from start to finish.
While Chris Greenacre – in charge since Ricki Herbert’s resignation earlier in the week – made just one change to his starting line-up, it was the change in shape and switch in position for Manny Muscat and Leo Bertos that really sparked the Phoenix.
Bertos has appeared shackled all season at right-back and relished the attacking opportunities he had returning to his preferred wing position.
He ran at defenders and got some quality ball into the box for his strikers to work with, something that has been lacking for much of the season.
The defence, too, looked more solid with Muscat in the back four, although they were never really tested by a Heart outfit who barely got out of second gear.
Up front Huysegems, leading the line with Jeremy Brockie, also had a greater influence on the game but he will be frustrated at being unable to find the back of the net again.
Paul Ifill played some of his best football of the season, beating defenders with his touch and footwork, getting good balls into the box, including the one that set up Brockie’s goal.
The Phoenix should have been four goals to the good before 25 minutes had gone but were denied three times by the woodwork as they launched wave after wave of attack on Andrew Redmayne’s goal.
The Heart were overrun and but for two half-chances in the opening 15 minutes showed little on attack when they had the ball.
Nick Kalmar slipped going for a shot after being left unmarked in the box in the 12th minute on a rare occasion the Phoenix defence were troubled.
Then Jonathan Germano’s fierce shot had Glen Moss scrambling but it flew wide.
And that was the best John Aloisi’s side could muster in the opening 45 minutes.
In contrast, the Phoenix showed more fighting spirit and intent than they have all season.
Brockie could have had his 14th goal of the season in the third minute only to see his volley glance off the crossbar with Redmayne beaten.
Next it was Huysegems who was denied in the 15th minute when he headed a pinpoint Brockie cross onto the bar before Ben Sigmund’s low header flew wide.
The breakthrough eventually came in the 19th minute. Ifill beat two defenders down the left and curled in a cross which Brockie volleyed home with this left foot.
Huysegems should have doubled the lead four minutes later. The Belgian chased down a long ball from Vince Lia and beat Patrick Gerhardt, back in the Heart starting line-up after suspension.
But having done the hard work and got himself the space, Huysegems’ left-footed shot to the far post had the keeper beaten but came back off the upright.
Ten minutes before half-time another excellent cross into the box from Bertos was met by Brockie, but the striker didn’t get enough on it and the Heart were lucky to go into the break just one goal down.
Ifill unleashed a long-range thunderbolt in the 58th minute searching for his first goal in open play this campaign but it flew well over.
Aloisi turned to his bench to inject some life into his side, bringing on Gogol Mebrahtu for Richard Garcia and Fred on for Kalmar, and it worked as the visitors began to finally put some pressure on the Phoenix defence.
A great ball over the top from Matt Thompson found David Williams, whose snap volley landed on top of the net.
Then the Heart won a corner after Germano’s shot was blocked. Mebrahtu swung the ball into the near post but Gerhardt headed over.
The home side endured a nervous final six minutes when Huysegems was sent off for a second yellow card after a challenge on Simon Colosimo.
But they continued to attack, forcing two more saves from Redmayne before the final whistle blew.
The Barbadian would admit this season has not seen his best, but today he was in everything and was unlucky not to score himself in a polished performance.
Wellington 1 (Brockie 19)
Melbourne Heart 0