The return of Michael McGlinchey was tonight enough for the Wellington Phoenix to earn a much-needed victory over the Central Coast Mariners.
The midfielder had been absent through injury for more than two months but struck the only goal of a rather uninspiring game on a wet night at Westpac Stadium.
McGlinchey's early intervention eventually proved pivotal as, after spurning several chances to add to their lead, the Phoenix were left to hang on for the three points they required to start a testing week.
Having climbed within a point of the top six, Wellington can consolidate that position with another couple of home games, but it won't be easy. The second-placed Melbourne Victory will be the first to visit on Tuesday before the fourth-placed Brisbane Roar come calling on Saturday, providing a serious test of the improvements made under new coaches Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre.
As has been the case throughout their reign, their Phoenix appeared potent in patches against the last-placed Mariners but were far too profligate for their coaches' liking, turning what should have been a comfortable victory into a nail-biting evening.
The Phoenix should have had more than the solitary goal to show for their first-half efforts, in particular, having steadily gained supremacy from the kick off. The return of Roly Bonevacia and, in particular, McGlinchey gave the home side the upper hand in the middle of the park, turning that ascendancy into a number of good opportunities.
Most of the openings arrived in the wide channels as the Phoenix sent in plenty of crosses of varying quality. The best resulted in golden chances that went begging, with Jacob Tratt heading over and Bonevacia firing wide, while even the inaccurate deliveries kept pressure on a Central Coast rearguard forced to scramble clear or turn the ball behind on a number of occasions.
McGlinchey was having his way with international teammate Storm Roux, getting the best of the Mariners right back for the goal and turning him beautifully later in the half. But, aside from his fine strike inside Paul Izzo's post in the ninth minute, even McGlinchey's most dangerous raids went unrewarded, much to the coaches' chagrin.
Wellington's wastefulness continued early in the second spell as Tratt sent another free header barely over the bar and Izzo saved well from a fierce Kosta Barbarouses drive. The string of near-misses meant the hosts were vulnerable to an opposition who initially offered little but, perhaps buoyed by remaining in touch, began to take command of possession as the second half progressed.
It was notable that as McGlinchey's influence waned so, too, did his side's enterprise, as the midfielder's lack of match fitness brought about both his substitution and the Mariners' best period.
Perhaps understandably, the Phoenix began to settle for their result, content to let the visitors control the ball in the middle third and defending well enough to prevent any heart-stopping moments at the back. And that approach created plenty of opportunities on the counter, with substitutes Hamish Watson and Adam Parkhouse somehow conspiring to squander a breakaway that seemed certain to result in a second goal.
But a match-sealing strike never came and, in the end, the home side were more than happy to get out of the rain with three points to their name.
Wellington Phoenix 1 (M. McGlinchey 9)
Central Coast Mariners 0