Cacace and Ball send Phoenix third as Western United crumble
Wellington Phoenix underlined their Hyundai A-League credentials in a convincing 2-0 win over Western United on Friday afternoon.
Liberato Cacace drew first blood on 29 minutes after Western United 'keeper Filip Kurto had kept Phoenix at bay with an outstanding series of first half saves from Gary Hooper, Rene Piscopo and David Ball, while Ufuk Talay's men also hit the woodwork twice through Ulises Davila and Piscopo.
The visitors - who beat Wellington 1-0 in October 2019 in their inaugural match - stemmed the flow of pressure but did not throw enough bodies forward into the box in search of an equalising goal, and were put away in the 90th minute when Ball raced on to a long ball from Stefan Marinovic and lobbed Kurto.
Mark Rudan's side will finish February without scoring a goal and have won just one game from their last eight matches.
They could be seven points adrift of the top six depending on the result between sixth-placed Brisbane and Melbourne City on Sunday.
Phoenix, wearing a one-off charity strip with purple jerseys, green shorts and white socks, in support of Mental Health Foundation, go third on the Hyundai A-League ladder, and nine points ahead of Western United.
Phoenix's goal-scoring talisman Davila hit the woodwork inside the opening 60 seconds. After collecting a pass from David Ball, the 10-goal Mexican international cut inside and was denied an 11th for the campaign by the inside of the post.
Gary Hooper was then denied by an outstanding one on one save from Kurto.
Devlin slid a lovely ball over the top of the visitors' defence but the ex-Premier League marksman could not adjust his feet quickly enough and the former Phoenix gloveman came out to smother the opportunity.
Kurto was called into action again to palm Rene Piscopo's drive before the Australian youth international hit the outside of the upright, while Kurto was again required to stand his ground and palmed Ball's effort to safety.
The breakthrough eventually came when Cacace caught Davila's clipped pass on the volley, a dipping effort which Kurto, despite his early heroics, would have expected himself to push away.
It was the teenage fullback's second goal of the 2019/20 campaign.
Besart Berisha operated in complete isolation for the half but still managed to sniff out a chance late on, but Phoenix 'keeper Stefan Marinovic was equal to his stubbed effort.
The visitors redoubled their defensive efforts in the second to stem the flow of Wellington pressure and enjoyed a good 15 minute period after the interval, however, they were left clinging on again thanks to Kurto's brilliance.
The 'keeper made another excellent stop to come out and block Hooper from sliding in Wellington's second as driving rain hammered the Kiwi capital, and although it was a frustrating second stanza for the hosts Ball made the points absolutely secure with a neat finish over Kurto in the 90th minute.
Sydney FC v Wellington Phoenix
Wednesday, 18 March
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Kick-off: 7.45pm AEDT
Western United v Central Coast Mariners
Sunday, 1 March
Kick-off: 4.00pm AEDT