Rudy Gestede thundered in headers either side of half-time as Melbourne Victory climbed off the foot of the A-League, overtaking opponents Wellington Phoenix, after a 2-0 win at AAMI Park.
Ex-Premier League target man Gestede proved too hot to handle for the New Zealand outfit, powering in a pair of Jake Brimmer corners to score his first goals since arriving Down Under, on his second A-League start.
The towering 32-year-old nodded in Brimmer’s delivery to put Victory ahead three minutes into first-half stoppage time, his third headed attempt of the match, before racing over to celebrate his maiden competition goal with embattled coach Grant Brebner to close out a frantic first half.
The reason for the additional time was a continuation of Victory’s injury misfortune throughout the opening 45 minutes, as centre-half Dylan Ryan limped off after five minutes, Marco Rojas twisted an ankle midway through the first half, and Brebner’s other central defender, Ryan Shotton, was withdrawn at the interval.
The Navy Blue opened the second half with two debutants at full-backs – 18-year-old Dalibor Markovic and substitute Zaydan Bello – but Gestede doubled his, and Victory’s tally, in the 49th minute as lightning struck twice with another powerful header from another perfectly-flighted Brimmer set-piece.
Alex Rufer and Reno Piscopo threatened a revival which never arrived, as Victory brought a halt to a three-match losing run, while Ufuk Talay’s team – who have advanced to the Finals Series for the past two campaigns – return to their temporary base in Wollongong with one win from eight matches this season.
The Navy Blue’s problems got worse from the off when Olyroos hopeful Dylan Ryan suffered a knee injury to end his match inside five minutes, but the hosts put their front foot forward as Callum McManaman’s whipped cross was powerfully headed towards goal by towering frontman Rudy Gestede and Phoenix goalkeeper Oliver Sail acrobatically parried the ball away to safety.
It took Wellington 10 minutes to settle as Ufuk Talay's side comfortably dealt with Victory's direct play and started to move the ball more quickly, with Ulises Davila finding space on the ball. Their first significant effort arrived when James McGarry’s chip was casually left to bounce off the bar and over by Victory gloveman Max Crocombe, before the Mexican magician Davila curled a free-kick over the hosts’ target.
The competition’s lowest scoring side were starting for the first time with a front four of Premier League veterans McManaman and Gestede and internationals Robbie Kruse and Marco Rojas, a combination that lasted until the 24th minute when the 'Kiwi Messi' was sidelined with an ankle twist. Victory continued to go back to Gestede early and often, the Benin international once again heading McManaman’s cross off target.
Victory dialled up the pressure as the clock ticked past 40 minutes but Phoenix’s compact rearguard blocked a series of efforts. McManaman was denied twice by Sail, once at close range, and Jake Brimmer slammed a shot wide with Wellington scrambling. Leigh Broxham came to the rescue to deny Reno Piscopo a sight of goal in a frenzied finish to the half, before Gestede finally found the net with a bullet header.
McManaman picked up where he left off before the break, twisting and turning Phoenix defenders before forcing another excellent save from Sail, and it was the same story from the resulting corner as Gestede drifted into the six-yard box and thumped another header past Sail. An unmarked Alex Rufer lifted a side-footed effort over and Piscopo saw his shot saved with the 'Nix chasing the game in the last half hour.
Ufuk Talay sent on substitute Charles Lokoli Ngoy to add a spark and the recent signing from NPL outfit Sydney Olympic was denied once while bearing down on goal, before skewing a headed attempt off target. Brimmer lashed a shot over as Victory looked to land a finishing blow but it was not necessary as a makeshift back four clinched Victory's second clean sheet of the season to propel themselves above Phoenix.
Next fixtures – Matchweek 10
Melbourne Victory v Western United
Saturday, 27 February 2021
Venue: Marvel Stadium
Kick-off: 7.10pm AEDT
Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix
Sunday, 28 February 2021
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
Kick-off: 6.10pm AEDT