Brisbane Roar have ended Wellington Phoenix’s winning run with a crucial 2-0 victory at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The win sees the defending champions reclaim second spot from the Phoenix with six games of the season to go.
Besart Berisha broke the deadlock with a quality finish just before half-time and substitute Mitch Nichols sealed the valuable three points with a fierce strike with just over 10 minutes remaining.
The Phoenix’s woes were also compounded by injury to centre-back Ben Sigmund, who limped off, and a fifth booking of the season each for defensive partner Andrew Durante and Tim Brown who will be suspended for next weekend’s game against league leaders Central Coast Mariners.
After a moment’s silence for Lloyd Morrison, a member of the Welnix consortium, who died during the week, Wellington were content just to sit back and soak up the pressure in the first half, hoping to catch Brisbane on the break.
But while they had a couple of opportunities they didn’t have the polish to finish.
Leo Bertos butchered a golden chance in the 13th minute when he collected a ball from Paul Ifill then ran strongly into the box.
But with just Michael Theoklitos to beat he struck a weak shot which the goalkeeper comfortably gathered.
The home side’s only other chance of the half came in the 32nd minute when Ifill again provided the ball into the box, Tim Brown back-heeled it to Alex Smith who rushed his shot and volleyed well wide and high.
Brisbane looked far more settled on the ball and created a couple of openings with their fluid passing game.
Ivan Franjic had an early shot deflected for a corner then Berisha got clear of the Phoenix defence but his shot on the turn flew over.
The controversial Roar striker, however, earned the vital breakthrough four minutes before the break. In a rare moment, Erik Paartalu opted for the long ball and Berisha lost his marker, Phoenix captain Durante, before firing the ball home first time.
The Phoenix changed tack in the second half, putting far more pressure on the Roar and as a result won far more of the ball. They also made better use of it, finally stringing their passes together.
Ifill forced a superb save from Theoklitos four minutes after the re-start when he broke from halfway and under pressure from Shane Stefanutto, got his shot away.
Another smart piece of interplay between Lia and Ifill earned the Phoenix a free-kick right on the edge of the 18 yard box in the 55th minute when Matt Smith brought Ifill down. But Dani Sanchez fired his attempt over.
Brisbane started to live dangerously by passing the ball in and around their own box. A poor clearance by Theoklitos fell to Chris Greenacre whose speculative long-range chip was only just off-target.
Ifill then shot wide from a corner attempt before Lia’s header picked out the Roar keeper after a good cross in from Tony Lochhead.
Frustrations began to boil over with Matt Smith and Greenacre shown yellow cards after earlier bookings for Stefanutto, Lia and Mohamed Adnan.
The Phoenix then saw Sigmund limp off with a leg injury and with striker Mirjan Pavlovic brought on as his replacement the back three of Lochhead, Durante and Lia were exposed and Nichols was left with acres of space and time to rifle his shot home from the edge of the box.
The drama was not over for the Phoenix though and the match ended on a sour note with Durante and Brown both shown yellow cards.