Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory have played out a five-goal thriller at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon with James Troisi’s late winner a dagger in the heart for Nix fans.
With both sides coming off hugely disappointing showings last week it was no surprise the opening minutes showed some nerves with attacks very much on top.
Dario Vidošić almost picked out Michael McGlinchey in the fourth minute with a touchline cutback, before Lawrence Thomas came but didn’t claim a dangerous Matthew Ridenton free-kick that arrowed past the post a minute later.
James Troisi then went up the other end, shooting past Lewis Italiano in the Phoenix goal, but the big Australian was relieved to see the Socceroo’s shot bounce back off the upright and into his grateful clutches.
Roy Krishna was on the end of a crunching tackle from former Phoenix flyer Kosta Barbarouses, but it went unpunished, before the Victory man created what he thought was the opening goal.
A mazy run from the All White found Besart Berisha who jinked inside Andrew Durante and curled his effort top corner with 16 minutes gone. Victory players celebrated but the VAR stepped in, and after one of those now-familiar haunting pauses scratched the effort out for offside.
Ridenton was almost the unlikely opening scorer as a partially-cleared Victory header fell tantalisingly for the midfielder but he failed to connect cleanly, before a lunging block at the other end saw Leroy George’s effort looping over.
It was two minutes of pure brilliance that ignited the contest, with Serbian sharpshooter Andrija Kaludjerovic nodding two exquisite headers from both wings.
Good work from Krishna created space for Scott Galloway, and the former Victory man whipped in an inch-perfect cross for Kaludjerovic who rose perfectly to give Thomas no chance, looping his header into the top left-hand corner.
It was a terrific header, and sixty seconds later the prolific marksman went even better. Tom Doyle fired a tantalising ball in from the left and from the 18-yard box, Kaludjerovic looped an even better header up and over the despairing reach of Thomas for 2-0.
As the half wound down Victory enjoyed a series of free-kicks from just outside the box, but the wall stood tall allowing the Phoenix into the sheds with a two-goal margin.
If there was a Kevin Muscat rocket at half-time it wasn’t immediately obvious, as George missed the kind of chance that gives a coach palpitations – dragging a weak effort wide inside the six-yard box when through one-on-one.
Victory’s fortune did turn however with Barbarouses again turning provider for Berisha. The Kiwi winger drove at the heart of defence before drawing a save from Italiano but the ball fell kindly for the Kosovan international who fired home.
And just as Phoenix had in the first half, Victory enjoyed a quick-fire double three minutes later in the 57th minute with a second courtesy an own-goal from the unfortunate Goran Paracki, who was adjudged to have made the last touch to a bobbling corner.
It was a disappointing goal to concede, but both sides continued to press as an entertaining finish loomed.
With ten minutes to go Berisha missed an opportunity to finish the contest, before Vidošić also flashed an effort agonisingly past the post with seven minutes to play.
In the 86th minute though it was a terrific finish from Troisi who calmly slid his effort under the outrushing Italiano to break the hearts of home supporters and send players slumping to the ground at the full-time whistle.
Coach Darije Kalezić addressed the players immediately post-game before attending the press conference, where he urged his players to ‘be winners’.
The Dutchman was understandably disappointed with the second half capitulation, but faced the media in a calm and analytical manner.
“Players are really emotional in the changing room, but my job is not to be emotional, but to analyse,” said Kalezić. “We lead this game again – like many games at home – comfortably [at] 2-0. We controlled the game in the first half, it was a nice game, an open game … so I am satisfied with the first half, and how we performed.”
“If the team [falls] behind, 1-zero, 2-zero, 3-zero every game, then you can make conclusion, very simple, that we are not good enough. But most of the games we lead very comfortably here – so we are good enough.”
“So what happens here now, we don’t have a team will 11 to 15 winners. Because if you have winners, this can never happen.”
Phoenix now head on the road for two away fixtures against Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory where Kalezić will be sure to look for a response from his squad.