Wellington Phoenix’s Melbourne misery continued on Saturday night, with hosts Victory exacting a 2-0 win at AAMI Park.
Having never won a Hyundai A-League match in Melbourne, the Phoenix were gradually worn down by Victory in front of a robust crowd of 18,609.
What it is that vexes the Phoenix about the Victorian capital appears somewhat of a mystery.
But they were not helped by one of their former favourites, Marco Rojas, who scored one goal and assisted the other for Marcos Flores a result that moved Victory to third and within three points of top.
Nonetheless, it was a tepid opening, hardly illuminated any more than its dull glow by Victory captain Adrian Leijer’s scoop well over after a set-piece outside the area.
Still, both sides had hints of attacking threats; the recalled Benjamin Totori was lively and energetic, while it was no surprise Victory’s equivalent was from former Wellington winger Marco Rojas.
Some cute interplay in the 21st minute between Archie Thompson, Flores and Rojas inevitably came to nothing, with the latter volleying his shot askew.
Wellington – with the heading strength of Jeremy Brockie and Stein Huysegems up front – appeared keen to test the mettle of Victory central defenders Adrian Leijer and Nick Ansell in the air, but could not quite forge more than a handful of half-chances.
Instead, it was from the left foot of Huysegems in the 30th minute that the visitors mustered their first opportunity, but Victory shot-stopper Coe was up to the challenge of keeping out his shot.
Victory, meanwhile, had to wait until 36 minutes were gone for a genuine chance. Diogo Ferreira began a break than ended with a Rojas ball to Thompson in the six-yard box, but the Phoenix defence did enough to put the veteran striker off.
The hosts should have had more shots on goal; Flores’ decision to try a chipped pass instead of shoot from the lip of the area soon after caused plenty of consternation among Victory’s fans.
But Phoenix’s defence did their part too, until they were brought undone on 42 minutes.
Flores found himself on the end of a Rojas cross from the left that somehow travelled through a busy Phoenix area, poking home as Phoenix goalkeeper Mark Paston moved to make ground.
It took just six minutes of the second half for the scoreline to become 2-0. Rojas had shown a knack for the spectacular in previous weeks, but also demonstrated he could do the simple things when he tapped home from close range.
Rojas created the chance by feeding Adrian Leijer, and – though the Victory captain’s shot was weak – it still did enough to beat Paston before rebounding off the post into the New Zealand international’s path.
Victory were rocked early in the week by the loss of Brazilian Gui Finkler for eight months with a serious knee injury, but did not seem the miss the playmaker due to the superb showings of Flores and Billy Celeski.
Flores played a key role as Victory went in search of a third goal, feeding Mark Milligan – also exception, upon his return from suspension – for a right-footed drive that glanced off the upright.
It was clear Phoenix missed suspended midfield hardman Manny Muscat, with Danny Sanchez the conduit for the visitors’ energy but unable to replace his team-mate’s physicality.
On 66 minutes, Milligan again tried his luck – this time from the left side of the area – but his curling shot went just wide.
Thompson and left-back Adama Traore similarly went close soon after, while Phoenix’s record in Melbourne was perhaps summed up by Brockie’s forgettable attempt at a volley from outside the area after 80 minutes.
Wellington substitute Cameron Lindsay drew a save out of Coe in the 86th minute, and Brockie went closer than he had before with a header soon after.
The result had long been assured, however, with Victory in sight of the A-League summit and Phoenix still in the dark on how to break their Melbourne hoodoo.
Melbourne Victory (Flores 43, Rojas 52)
Bet365 Man of the Match: Mark Milligan The midfielder was again a dominant personality for the Victory, just when they needed it, and was very unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.