Phoenix stun Gold Coast

The Wellington Phoenix have dashed any hope of Gold Coast United taking out the Hyundai A-league Premiers' Plate with a late first-half penalty crushing the home side at Skilled Park on Sunday night.

The Wellington Phoenix have dashed any hope of Gold Coast United taking out the Hyundai A-league Premiers' Plate with a late first-half penalty crushing the home side at Skilled Park on Sunday night.

Defender Sebastiaan Van den brink's questionable challenge on Tim Brown earned the Phoenix a penalty in first-half stoppage time with journeyman Paul Ifill stepping up to firmly confirm Wellington as Gold Coast'-s bogey side.

The home side tried to rally in the second half but were unable to break down a resilient Wellington defence with goalkeeper Liam Reddy denying the Gold Coast on more than one occasion.

With Melbourne and Sydney both registering wins this weekend the result means that Gold Coast slips to third three points behind league leaders Victory and two behind second-placed Sydney.

The best Gold Coast can hope for is finishing second with the Hyundai A-league decider set for next week when the Sky Blues host the Victory.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert was pleased with the result which moves his side up to fourth and gives them the chance to cement a home elimination final if they can beat the Central Coast next week.

"We've never lost the belief in the camp, we're into the playoffs for the first time and that's great history wise, we're at home next week so hopefully we can get the result." Herbert said.

Before the opening whistle, Gold Coast's playing stocks took a blow when young gun Tahj Minniecon picked up a thigh injury during the warm up. Coach Miron Bleiberg was forced to make a quick change and impact striker Andrew Barisic was given his chance on the bench.

After heavy rain pounded the Gold Coast overnight there were concerns that the match would be postponed, however an early morning pitch inspection left match officials satisfied with Skilled Park's modern drainage system.

Wellington gave United a scare in the 13th minute when Andrew Durante did well to meet Adrian Caceres' well whipped in free-kick, the Phoenix captain unlucky not to score after his effort crashed into the upright and bounced out.

Two minutes later the visitors threatened again as Gold Coast goalkeeper Jess Vanstrattan was then forced to scramble low to his left making a great save to turn Vince Lia's long range effort out of play.

With experienced Referee Mathew Breeze overseeing proceedings, Maltese international Manny Muscat quickly found his way into the book after a sliding tackle on Michael Thwaite in the 20th minute.

Charlie Miller had the hosts' first effort of the night just after the half-hour mark when he pulled the trigger from just outside the box, but the effort was a little too straight and didn't test Liam Reddy in the Phoenix goal.

Not afraid to pull out his cards in the first half, Breeze stamped his authority on the match brandishing a total of five yellow's for the half including three in three minutes as Miller, Zenon Caravella and Anderson saw yellow for the home side, while Durante's name was taken after a tough challenge on right-back Dino Djulbic.

With the match looking destined to head into the break scoreless, drama struck in stoppage time when van den Brink was adjudged to have brought down Brown just inside the penalty area.

Breeze had no hesitation in awarding the penalty and Ifill stepped up to take responsibility slamming his effort low into the bottom corner and giving the away side a much needed boost going into the second-half.

Incensed at the penalty decision a furious Bleiberg confronted Breeze as both teams headed for the tunnel, having plenty to say at the veteran match official.

With a real hurdle to climb in the second stanza Jason Culina tested Reddy from a free-kick early but Wellington had a great chance to double its lead in the 56th minute when Chris Greenacre's effort went just inches over the cross-bar after he stuck a foot in the path of Ifill's stinging left-foot effort.

As the rain began to fall in Robina on the hour-mark, Shane Smeltz blazed high and wide with Culina driving a speculative effort directly at Reddy from long range five minutes later.

As Gold Coast looked for the equaliser the Phoenix defence held firm with Jon McKain and Durante making crucial tackles that stifled Smeltz and his team-mates.

With 15 minutes to go Culina unleashed another low drive on target from outside the box, but with the ball looking destined for the net Reddy pulled off a brilliant diving save to his right.

Committed up the park United was left exposed and second-half substitute Eugene Dadi came close to securing the three points with a header that drifted wide with time ticking away.

With five minutes left Reddy made another great save to deny Smeltz's looping goal bound header as the Phoenix held on for a famous victory.

Gold Coast United 0 Wellington Phoenix 1 (Ifill 45p) @ Skilled Park 7/2/10. Crowd: 4202