Wellington Phoenix 3
Melbourne Heart 1
Three straight wins, a crowd of more than 13,000 and second spot on the A-League ladder - these are distinguished days for the Wellington Phoenix.
The Phoenix beat Melbourne Heart 3-1 in Wellington today to move above champions Brisbane Roar and into second place, thanks to a brace of goals from Paul Ifill sandwiched around a Chris Greenacre strike.
And with the Wellington public responding in force to owner Gareth Morgan's plea for higher attendances, it really was a perfect afternoon for Ricki Herbert's side.
Turning out in an unfamiliar all-black kit, the Phoenix showed All Blacks-like form in dispatching the Heart, consigning them to a sixth consecutive game without a win in 2012. The Nix now head into the home stretch sitting pretty in the top two, though they still trail runaway leaders Central Coast by 10 points, with the Heart remaining in fourth place.
With eight games left in the season, five of which are across the ditch, three points was a must for the Phoenix if they wish to secure a playoff match in the friendly confines of Westpac Stadium.
They were aided in that cause when Manny Muscat provided a perfect pre-game boost, returning to Wellington with a couple of hours to spare after spending the week in Melbourne fruitlessly awaiting the birth of his first child.
That boost was quickly translated into an advantage on the scoreboard, with the club's all-time leading goalscorer Ifill again showing his class. The game was barely two minutes old when Heart defender Aziz Behich failed to deal with a deep Tony Lochhead cross, allowing Ifill to slide the ball under Clint Bolton and put the home side in front.
The Heart, however, soon began to settle into the contest, and with 10 minutes left in the half they drew level. After the Phoenix backline was unlocked by a Jonatan Germano through ball, Alex Terra found himself in space in the Wellington box and put his first-time shot across the face of Mark Paston's goal and into the bottom corner.
The two teams went to the break level but it didn't take the Phoenix long to edge ahead in the second spell, as Leo Bertos, on the bench for both of Wellington's last two games, celebrated his return to the starting side in style.
His pace on the right wing proved no match for Behich, and the All White matched his run with a pinpoint cross which was nodded in at the near post by Greenacre.
Just 10 minutes later Ifill all-but wrapped up the points with his team-leading fifth goal of the season. He was played in by a clever ball from Muscat, before rounding Bolton and slotting in from a tight angle.
The Phoenix went agonisingly close to a fourth, after Daniel drove a free kick against Bolton's right post from all of 25 metres, but it mattered little as the Nix saw out the last 10 minutes to head to the dizzy heights of second.
Phoenix 3 (Ifill 3, 63, Greenacre 53)
Melbourne Heart 1 (Terra 34)