Wellington Phoenix have reached the dizzying heights of second on the Hyundai A-League ladder after an entertaining 3-1 win over Melbourne Heart.
Brisbane Roar’s loss to Newcastle Jets on Saturday opened the way for the Phoenix to move behind Central Coast and they took full advantage in front of a season-high crowd at Westpac Stadium of 13,601.
In a hard-fought and entertaining contest the teams were locked 1-1 at halftime after Paul Ifill’s opener was cancelled out by Alex Terra.
But a Chris Greenacre header early in the second half took the wind out of the Heart’s sails and Ifill landed the killer blow in the 64th minute when he completed his brace.
The win was however marred by the sight of Leo Bertos, who had replaced Nick Ward in the starting line-up, being stretchered off in the 76th minute after he suffered a leg injury after being caught in a tackle by David Williams.
The Phoenix, wearing a one-off all black strip which will be auctioned for charity Cure Kids, got off to the perfect start, taking the lead inside three minutes as Ifill fired home his fourth goal of the season.
Tony Lochhead delivered the perfect ball to the far post and when Aziz Behich weakly headed it into the path of Ifill, the Phoenix playmaker stepped past the defender to drill it past Clint Bolton.
The visitors immediately responded but Mate Dugandzic’s shot was off target.
The Phoenix had two good opportunities to stretch their lead. Tim Brown forced a save from Bolton then Ifill saw another effort land on top of the goal.
In the 22nd minute Eli Babalj stopped a goal-bound Andrew Durante header off the line.
At the other end Manny Muscat, a surprise inclusion at right-back after making the dash back from Melbourne where wife, Rebecca, is due to give birth to their first child, made a vital clearance a couple of minutes later.
But with the Heart having the upper hand in the possession stakes they began to make headway, particularly through the middle of the park.
A great free-kick from 35 metres out by Kristian Sarkies found Terra on the edge of the penalty box but the striker’s first-time volley flew over.
But the increasing pressure applied in midfield eventually told for the Heart who grabbed a deserved equaliser 10 minutes before the break.
A superb through ball from Jonatan Germano found Terra and the striker’s finish was excellent as he slotted it low past Mark Paston.
Sarkies made a vital interception in the box early in the second half to ensure Brown was denied a simple tap-in.
Then in the 52nd minute the Heart midfielder saw a fiercely-struck free-kick just fly over Paston’s goal.
That seemed to fire up Wellington and two minutes later they took the lead. Bertos broke clear down the right and whipped in a cross to the near post which Greenacre headed home.
Ten minutes later and the home side struck the killer blow as Ifill grabbed his second of the match after twisting the Heart defence inside and out.
The drama was not over though. Replacement Daniel saw his free-kick come back off the post, then Brown’s tap-in was denied for off-side.
The Heart fought hard to the end in search of a point. Terra butchered a golden opportunity five minutes from time when he fired well wide before Babalj’s shot forced a save from Paston.
Wellington Phoenix:3 (Ifill 3, 64, Greenacre 54)
Melbourne Heart: 1 (Terra, 34)