Wellington Phoenix have kept their slim finals hopes alive – and extinguished Western Sydney’s – following an entertaining 2-1 win over the Wanderers at Bankwest Stadium on Wednesday night.
With both side’s needing a win to have any chance of making a late push for the top six, Tomer Hemed’s 42nd-minute header proved the difference.
David Ball gave the visitors a lead midway through the first-half, only for Keanu Baccus to equalise less than five minutes later.
The Phoenix were then forced to withstand a late onslaught from the Wanderers to hold on for a priceless three points, extending their unbeaten run to nine matches.
The victory has seen the Kiwi outfit jump up to seventh spot on the ladder, two points behind both Macarthur FC and Central Coast Mariners, although they have played a game more.
They will need to win their final two games against Perth Glory on Sunday and then the Bulls in the final round to have any chance of sneaking into the six.
The only downside for Ufuk Talay’s troops was a shoulder injury to Reno Piscopo that saw him leave the field in tears inside 15 minutes.
For the Wanderers, the defeat means the club are almost certain to miss the finals for a fourth straight season.
Carl Robinson’s side had their chances to take at least a point from the match but have picked up just nine points from their last 11 games to sit in ninth spot.
Piscopo suffers injury blow
There was an early setback for the visitors with young star Reno Piscopo forced off in tears with a shoulder injury.
The 22-year-old suffered the blow after copping a heavy challenge by Ziggy Gordon inside 10 minutes which required treatment, but was able to play on.
Keanu Baccus then clattered into Piscopo a few minutes later with the Olyroos attacker clutching his shoulder again, this time needing to be substituted.
Reports are Piscopo heard a ‘pop’ in his shoulder in the Gordon challenge and he’ll be hoping it’s not serious enough to shatter his Tokyo Olympics dream.
Ball prods Phoenix in front
After a cagey first 20 minutes, Wellington began to gain control and hit the front via Englishman David Ball.
Clayton Lewis’ in-swinging corner was inadvertently flicked onto the crossbar by Wanderers midfielder Graham Dorrans.
Ball was first to react to the loose ball, poking it over the line from close range for his fifth goal of the campaign.
Baccus levels it up quickly
It took less than five minutes for the Wanderers to respond via Baccus, and it was tinged with controversy.
A Wanderers corner pinballed around the box, ending with Baccus firing a shot at goal from the edge of the box.
The strike just evaded Wanderers defender Dylan McGowan – who was in and offside position – and was too good for Phoenix gloveman Oliver Sail.
With sail complaining his view was obstructed by the offside McGowan, referee Kurt Ams consulted VAR but decided to award the goal.
Hemed continues his hot streak
Set pieces were causing headaches for both sides so it was no surprise when Wellington regained the lead from another corner just before the break.
Again, Lewis delivery from the right was exquisite, landing right in the middle of a slew of players inside the six yard box.
And it was Israeli star Hemed who did the business, bustling free of Ziggy Gordon to plant his header into the back of the net.
Marvellous Margush repels Wellington
Phoenix made a fast start to the second half and would have extended their lead if not for the heroics of Wanderers gloveman Daniel Margush.
The Olympic hopeful first kept out a curling effort from ex-Wanderer Jaushua Sotirio before seeing a deflected Tim Payne header float just over the bar.
Margush then did brilliantly to tip over a long-range rocket from Cameron Devlin to keep his side in the match.
Payne’s block saves Phoenix
It was all Wanderers in the dying minutes and it was only an incredible block from defender Tim Payne that preserved all three points for Wellington.
Mitch Duke’s cross was partially cleared into the path of Tate Russell, with the Wanderers wing-back set to slam the ball past Oli Sail from close range.
But Payne got across and stuck out a boot to somehow block the shot and save his side’s season.
Western Sydney Wanderers v Brisbane Roar
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Kick-off: 4.05pm (AEDT)
Wellington Phoenix v Perth Glory
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Kick-off: 1.35pm (AEST)