Wellington fend off surging Perth to claim vital three points
Wellington Phoenix are in the box seat for a top-two finish after a crucial 2-1 victory over Perth Glory at Bankwest Stadium on Wednesday night.
Goals to Gary Hooper and Ulises Dávila on either side of half time gave Wellington enough breathing room to survive a late Glory charge sparked by a long-range Dane Ingham strike, as the 'Nix moved to within one point of second-placed Melbourne City with a game in hand.
It took half an hour for either side to come out of their shell before Callum McCowatt and Hooper turned the tide in Wellington's favour.
McCowatt's defensive tracking, turnover and long ball behind Perth's defence created the chance for Hooper to open the scoring which the Englishman took with both hands, shrugging off Alex Grant and firing under Liam Reddy to open the scoring on the half hour.
Perth had dominated possession and continued to do so after going behind, but played with far more potency as Bruno Fornaroli fired an attempt from distance which was well dealt with by Stefan Marinovic in Wellington's goal.
Jacob Tratt emerged from the bench at the break for Tony Popovic's side with the intention of solidifying Perth's defence but his impact was instantaneous for all the wrong reasons, as the centre-half made a clumsy challenge on David Ball to hand the Phoenix a spot-kick.
Dávila, another half-time substitute, made his instant impact a good one for Wellington as he stepped up to the spot and placed the ball past Reddy to put his side two goals to the good.
Two quick-fire chances then arose for Perth, firstly through Kristian Popovic who saw his deflected shot spin just wide of Marinovic's left-hand post, then Tratt rose highest from the resulting corner to direct a venomous header toward goal, but Marinovic again was ready to snuff out the danger.
With half an hour to play Glory needed inspiration and found it through Dane Ingham who curled a perfectly-placed attempt from distance past Marinovic into the bottom right corner, and the game was on.
Suddenly momentum swung in favour of the men in purple, but Fornaroli lacked his clinical ruthless streak when he struck a meek attempt toward goal, burning two options in Kristian Popovic and Nick D'Agostino at the back post in the process.
Precious time continued to tick by as Perth set up camp in attack, with Wellington showing a clear intention to wrap up the points with the score as it stood; nervous moments presented themselves for Talay's side but they dealt with each attack astutely as added time came to an end with the score at 2-1.
The result gives distant hope to Talay and the Phoenix of an unlikely charge at the Premiers' Plate which Sydney FC failed to wrap up against Newcastle Jets on Tuesday night, but overthrowing Melbourne City in second place seems an achievable task for Wellington who now have their top-two fate in their own hands.
Hooper finishes ruthless Phoenix counter attack
Perth had all the territory, but a challenge from McCowatt on Franjic sparked a brutal Phoenix counter which ended in a Hooper strike just after the half-hour.
McCowatt won the ball, played a one-two with Matti Steinmann and fed Hooper through with a dangerous long ball; Hooper ran into the path of the ball, shrugged off Alex Grant and buried the ball under Reddy into the back of the net to open the scoring.
Tratt blunder gifts Davila a goal from the spot
Just two minutes into his appearance off the bench, Tratt laid a challenge on Ball in the box which gave the referee no choice but to point to the spot and hand Wellington a chance to go two ahead.
That was a chance Dávila was never going to give up, as the Mexican curled a cool strike beyond Reddy's outstretched glove and into the side netting.
Ingham finishes well-worked corner routine with aplomb
Perth found their way back into the contest through an Ingham strike from long range, created by quick passes between Neil Kilkenny and D'Agostino which found Ingham unmarked outside the box.
A touch to his right and a carefully-considered strike from Ingham sent the ball curling past Marinovic; the shot dipped late into the bottom right corner to give Glory a chance of a comeback.
Fornaroli wastes opportunity to level the ledger
When Kristian Popovic found Fornaroli with a sliding pass into the box it looked for all money the Uruguayan would strike truly.
But his weak attempt was collected easily by Marinovic, while D'Agostino threw his arms up in frustration he wasn't found unmarked at the back post.
- Wellington Phoenix v Adelaide United
When: Saturday, July 25
Where: Bankwest Stadium
Kick-off: 5pm (AEST)
- Adelaide United v Perth Glory
When: Thursday, July 30
Where: Bankwest Stadium
Kick-off: 7.30pm (AEST)