With many pre-game suggesting a Melbourne cakewalk, Wellington have recorded a stunning 3-0 win at AAMI Stadium on Sunday night to give Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre back-to-back wins over Kevin Muscat’s Victory.
On a night where much of the build up was focused on Besart Berisha’s quest to become the first player to strike 100 A-League goals, it was the Wellington Phoenix frontline that proved much the sharper.
The Kosovan International was well-marshalled by returning captain Andrew Durante and the quietly spoken Marco Rossi, but it was in the front third that Wellington really did their talking.
With Phoenix’s finals hopes hanging by the most marginal of threads it was the visitors who started the brighter in a first ten minutes full of cut and thrust, with Roy Krishna particularly lively down the left.
If it was the Fijian causing consternation it was Roly Bonevacia who capitalised, the Victory defence appeared content to back off the Dutch youth International, who drilled a sharp, low shot across Lawrence Thomas to open the scoring after just nine minutes.
It was nearly two just minutes later as Kosta Barbarouses nicked in to pinch a backpass from James Donachie, but Thomas stood tall to block the shot.
If it looked as if it was all going to plan for Phoenix there was a horror moment in the 15th minute, as Matthew Ridenton fell to the ground clutching his right knee after appearing to over-extend whilst effecting a tackle.
The young All White was stretchered off, with early suggestions it could be a suspected Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury.
If his teammates were upset they didn’t let it affect their game, as Krishna continued to trouble the Victory backline with a fine jinking shot that curled just over Thomas’s crossbar.
Bonevacia was feeling in the mood, and when Victory made the mistake of allowing the Dutchman space once again, he duly punished them.
A spin inside Carl Valeri and then a rocket shot from 25m gave Thomas no chance as it cannoned off both uprights and in for a 2-0 lead.
Berisha allowed frustration to creep into his game as he tangled with Durante, before Marco Rojas reminded his International teammates of his mercurial talent, heading a warning shot just wide.
In the 31st minute Alex Rodriguez fired a shot at Thomas, before Barbarouses almost capitalised on another underhit backpass, but Jason Geria’s blushes were spared as the Phoenix No.9 rushed his shot.
If Kevin Muscat gave his charges the hairdryer treatment at half-time it may have had a temporary affect as Rojas almost fashioned a chance inside a minute of the restart.
Victory huffed and puffed without fashioning many clear cut chances but some desperate defending from first Dylan Fox, then Tom Doyle in the 57th minute kept the Phoenix goal intact.
The chances were few and far between as the second half descended into a tense arm wrestle. Rojas and James Troisi tried to fire the Victory, while Krishna and Barbarouses remained lively on the counter-attack.
It was worse news for the home side in the 71st minute as Barbarouses’ pace left Alan Baro stranded, and the Spanish centre-back was handed a straight red card for bringing down the Wellington flyer as he was through on goal.
As Victory pushed Phoenix should have punished them further – first Barbarouses in the 83rd minute, and then Shane Smeltz in the 85th minute – who dallied when perhaps a shot would have been better.
Rampaging on from right back Fox then found himself free in the box, but his cross couldn’t pick out an exasperated Smeltz as the Nix dominated the final exchanges.
The reward finally came after a terrific cross from Doyle gifted Smeltz a tap-in in the 89th minute. Wellington’s sharp-shooter notching his 92nd A-League goal and continuing his rich vein of form against the Victory to round out a dominant performance from the NZ side.
Phoenix move just four points behind Perth Glory and five behind Western Sydney Wanderers with two rounds remaining.