Melbourne Victory have booked their place in this season’s Finals Series following a 4-1 win over Wellington Phoenix at a wet Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
Goals from Besart Berisha and Oliver Bozanic inside the opening 20 minutes had the defending champions coasting until a brain-explosion from Berisha reduced his side to 10-men.
The Albanian was receiving treatment following a head knock when he inexplicably lashed out at Andrew Durante and was subsequently given his marching orders.
Despite the set-back Kosta Barbarouses tormented his future employers with a third after the Phoenix lost Albert Riera following a second booking in the second stanza.
Meanwhile Victory captain Carl Valeri made his long awaited return to the field when he replaced an injured Rashid Mahazi on the hour mark.
Wellington pulled a goal back late and should have had another from the penalty spot to set up a grandstand finish but Michael McGlinchey blazed his effort hopelessly wide of the woodwork.
Instead it was Kevin Muscat's side that would have the final say when George Howard added his name to the list of scorers in stoppage time.
0-1 Besart Berisha (9’) – The opening goal was somewhat self-inflicted from the Phoenix after an unfortunate attempted clearance from Tom Doyle. Kosta Barbarouses was on hand to take advantage, finding Berisha unmarked in the box with an early ball. The Victory striker produced a wonderful back-heel flick to beat Moss at his near post.
0-2 Oliver Bozanic (19’) – Victory surged forward in numbers and were once again able to pick apart Wellington’s defence. This time it was Scott Galloway who found himself in space down the left. The defender found Bozanic at the top of the box who unleashed a clinical left-footed strike to continue his goal-scoring form.
0-3 Kosta Barbarouses (56’) – A good interchange of passing between Barbarouses and Finkler – who will both find themselves in Phoenix colours next season – resulted in Victory’s third goal. With Phoenix having just lost their numerical advantage they were again opened up at the back, Barbarouses slotting the ball between Moss’ legs for his sixth goal of the campaign.
1-3 Roly Bonevacia (82’) – A long range McGlinchey shot forced a great save from Lawrence Thomas, resulting in a Phoenix corner. A training ground play saw Bonevacia receive the ball back from the set-piece and he fired the ball into the box. The cross turned into a shot when it somehow found its way past a host of bodies and rolled into the far post.
1-4 George Howard (90’+3) – Two of Victory’s substitutes combined to ice the result in stoppage time. Archie Thompson found himself in acres of space down the right as Victory broke in transition. The A-League’s leading goal scorer unselfishly crossed the ball for Howard who slid the ball past Moss for his first of the season.
There were unbelievable scenes at Westpac Stadium when Victory were reduced to ten men with almost an hour still to play. Berisha was on the ground receiving treatment after getting a knock to the head from Ben Sigmund. Andrew Durante appeared to be checking on the welfare of the Victory frontman who lashed out with a boot while still on the ground. Referee Ben Williams had no hesitation giving Berisha his marching orders, while Durante also earned a booking for getting involved.
Goalkeeper Laurence Thomas pulled off a stunning reflex save to ensure Victory retained their early advantage. After being awarded a free-kick in the attacking third Roly Bonevacia whipped in a pin-point cross which Andrew Durante met with a bullet header. The ball seemed destined to ripple the back of the net but Thomas made a remarkable clutch save, minutes later the visitors were two goals to the good.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
- Besart Berisha’s opener meant he’d scored eight of Melbourne Victory’s last 13 goals on the road.
- Wellington’s third straight home loss equals the club record set at the beginning of last season.
- These two sides have now failed to play out a draw in their last 16 league encounters.
THE FINAL WORD
With Melbourne Victory having to deal with Asian Champions League football and a trip to South Korea mid-week it was a case of job done for the visitors in Wellington.
The three points ensures they’ll be a chance of defending their Championship, while they’re starting to find form at the right end of the season.
The club will face an anxious wait to see what sanction Besart Berisha will face for his moment of madness in the first-half.
There was little for the home fans to cheer as the rain belted down in Wellington, with Bonevacia’s late goal the one bright spot.
The Phoenix’s woes from the penalty spot continued, while Ernie Merrick will have been disappointed with his side’s overall performance given many of his players are playing for new contracts.
Wellington Phoenix: Moss (GK), Muscat (c), Sigmund, Durante, Doyle, Lia (Rodriguez 70’), Riera, Bonevacia, McGlinchey, Powell (Watson 59’), Krishna (Fenton 76’)
Melbourne Victory: Thomas (GK), Georgievski, Broxham (c), Delpierre, Galloway, Mahazi (Valeri 60’), Bozanic (Thompson 83’), Finkler, Barbarouses (Howard 75’), Khalfallah, Berisha
Scorers: Berisha (9’), Bozanic (19’), Barbarouses (56’), Bonevacia (82’), Howard (90’+3)
Yellow cards: Mahazi (31’), Durante (20’), Riera (45’+2, 55’), Delpierre (62’), Georgievski (69'), Doyle (80'), Thomas (87')
Red cards: Besart Berisha (35’), Albert Riera (55’)
Conditions: 19C, wet