Records are meant to be broken, and one of the A-League’s seemingly immutable standards — Wellington Phoneix’s inability to win away against Melbourne Victory — was finally snapped at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon when the Kiwis twice came from behind to triumph 3-2.
Phoenix had not won in 12 attempts away to Victory before this, and their win – their first in five matches – will put their season back on course.
Victory had the chance to go top of the A-League had they taken three points here, not to mention marking Archie Thompson’s 200th game in style. They are now second on goal difference, three points behind Perth Glory. Victory, Adelaide and Wellington all have 33 points, with Sydney one point behind.
Wellington have been transformed under former Victory boss Ernie Merrick, and in Michael McGlinchey, Nathan Burns and Roy Krishna they have one of the more inventive and incisive attacks in the competition, while Dutch midfielder Roly Bonevacia provides dead ball expertise and support from midfield.
The visitors made their intentions clear early by forcing two corners early but it was the hosts who came closest first through striker Besart Berisha, the Albanian drawing a fine save from ex Victory goalkeeper Glen Moss in the eighth minute.
Still, it couldn’t disguise the lively start being made by Merrick’s men. McGlinchey was all quick feet and darting little runs in dangerous areas and Burns, who has turned his career around since heading to Wellington, was a combination of pace, power and skill as he tried to work openings around the Victory penalty area.
Nevertheless it was Victory who should have taken the lead around the quarter of an hour mark. First Fahid Ben Khallfallah made a wonderful break through the centre, dribbled past Albert Riera and set up Kosta Barbarouses. The ex Phoenix winger’s shot was scrambled to safety by Alex Rodriguez, who had got back well to cover.
From the resultant corner Victory gained another opportunity when Nix centre back Ben Sigmund brought down Mark Milligan. Referee Jarred Gillett pointed to the spot. Up stepped Berisha, but his penalty slammed into the post and rebounded to safety.
Moss was again Wellington’s saviour when he came off his line to dive at Barbarouses feet after the winger’s slightly heavy touch played Ben Khallfallah’s crossfield ball just far enough ahead to give the goalkeeper a chance.
Berisha got himself booked for a foul on Rodriguez. Gui Finkler then skimmed the bar with a lofted shot after a sweeping move down the right begun by Milligan, and it looked as though Victory was getting on top.
Kevin Muscat’s side did get their noses in front in the 34th minute from fullback Scott Galloway. Phoenix only partially cleared his cross after he had galloped up the left, allowing him to then drive in a shot which beat Moss.
The visitors didn’t drop their heads, however, and kept coming. Rodriguez blasted wide from a Burns pass, and in the 40th minute they got the equaliser their enterprise deserved from a wonderful free kick by Bonevacia. Victory full back Jason Geria conceded a foul in a dangerous area when he upended Krishna, and Bonevacia stepped up outside the penalty area to curl a perfectly weighted free kick into the net.
Mucat’s men regained the initiative early in the second half through a well worked and smartly finished goal by Barbarouses. Geria fed the New Zealand international wide on the right and Barbarouses squared the ball to Carl Valeri and kept running. Valeri threaded a pass through which Barbarouses calmly finished off the outside of his boot into the far corner.
But Phoenix are never out of games these days, and in the 68th minute they drew level once more, and Bonevacia was again the architect. His free kick floated to the far side of the penalty area and defender Michael Boxall got clear to head past Coe to make it 2-2.
Thompson, celebrating a wonderful milestone entered the fray with some 20 minutes remaining, but it was Burns at the other end who had the biggest impact, putting his side in front with 13 minute to go after a surging run down the right by Michael Boxall.
Burns looked to be standing in an offside position while the move developed but was deemed to be “passive”. When the ball came to him he was not offside, and he finished just inside Nathan Coe’s post. This was clearly fated to be Merrick’s – and Wellington’s – day.