GOOD things come in threes and Wellington Phoenix underlined that in emphatic style with a pulsating 2-1 win against Melbourne Victory at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday night.
The home side produced their finest match of the season, coming from a goal down to register their third successive win, and second at home, against the visiting Hyundai A-League competition leaders. It was also the Phoenix-s first competition win against the Victory.
The win lifts the Phoenix, temporarily at least, to fourth in the standings – and with the promise of even finer days to come. While striker Shane Smeltz will be credited with the winning goal, it was the tireless work of central defender and captain Andrew Durante that, arguably, swung the match for the Phoenix.
The Phoenix opened in front of a raucous 7593-strong crowd with the confidence borne from successive wins, but Melbourne matched them in intensity in the early exchanges. The early battle was for control of the midfield, with much play unfolding in the central zone.
Phoenix custodian Mark Paston was the busiest of the glovemen in the opening quarter, tentatively pushing clear from a corner and scrambling low to save a goal-bound header from an infringing Roddy Vargas. Tom Pondeljak also forced Paston to save low to his left in the 18th minute from distance, and moments later he tipped clear a thunderous Danny Allsopp header from close range.
The pressure eventually told, and in the 20th minute Ney Fabiano-s header from a corner came off Paston-s right-hand post but only as far as Allsopp, who headed home from close range.
The home side was on level terms two minutes later, however, when Victory could only clear a threatening Leo Bertos freekick as far as midfielder Tim Brown. His right footed drive from just inside the penalty area bounced once and into the top of Victory goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos- net.
The Phoenix, backed by an irrepressibly vocal home crowd, continued to press in an impressive period but the Victory defence held firm. Phoenix midfielder Jon McKain was on the end of a Bertos corner in the 38th minute but his header bounced over the crossbar.
Phoenix frontman Bertos sparked the home side in the 54th minute, his jinking run into Theoklitos- zone forcing the keeper to deflect a low, hard cross clear to Tony Lochhead but the defender-s strike was wide.
Moments later, Durante, back in the starting lineup with Karl Dodd suspended, was on hand with beautiful defensive work to blunt a Victory attacking foray.
The home side took the lead in the 58th minute through striker Smeltz, the frontman turning his marker Michael Thwaite in centre field before nudging the ball forward and unleashing a delightful right-foot strike past Theoklitos to shatter the net.
Smeltz again stretched his legs in the 71st minute after a layoff from the increasingly prominent Brazilian Fred but his strike went over Theoklitos- crossbar.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert resisted making any substitutions till the 81st minute, when Jeremy Christie replaced the hard-working Michael Ferrante in midfield. Soon after, Smeltz – having scored his ninth goal of the season – was replaced by Troy Hearfield.
Paston dived low to save a Carlos Hernandez strike from distance with three minutes of regulation time remaining and the Phoenix held firm for a well deserved win.
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Tim Brown 22-, Shane Smeltz 58-)
Melbourne Victory 1 (Danny Allsopp 20-)
Crowd: 7593 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington