Jason Pine is Radio Sport's former football commentator

Football: Wellington Phoenix keep slim A-League playoff hopes alive

Wellington Phoenix 3 Melbourne Victory 0
Roly Bonevacia of the Phoenix. Photo / Getty
Roly Bonevacia of the Phoenix. Photo / Getty

Where has this team been?

Wellington Phoenix fans could be well justified in asking that question, after watching their side keep their slim A-League playoff hopes alive with a Roly Bonevacia-inspired 3-0 win at Melbourne Victory.

The Dutchman has endured a frustrating season, often struggling to recapture the form which has made him one of the most feared attacking midfielders in the A-League.

That inconsistency has been mirrored by the Phoenix. If they'd played like this more often, they'd be a lock in the top six, rather than playing a game of late-season catch-up.

But with rumours of a move to Western Sydney swirling around before kick-off, Bonevacia had a sensational game, causing Victory endless headaches with his close control, audacious dribbling and incisive passing and lighting up AAMI Park with two stunning long-range first-half strikes.

The first came after the Phoenix dominated the opening stages, Bonevacia drilling home a right-footed thunderbolt from 23 metres to put the Phoenix ahead after just nine minutes. It was Wellington's 350th A-League goal.

He was at again after 26 minutes from even further out. This time his shot wasn't hit quite as sweetly, but it beat Melbourne goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas, cannoned off both posts and into the net to double the Phoenix's advantage.

Coach Des Buckingham made four changes to the side that demolished Newcastle 5-0 a week ago, with internationals Andrew Durante, Tom Doyle, and Roy Krishna all returning, as well as Matthew Ridenton, although he lasted just fifteen minutes before being forced off with a suspected ACL injury. Lewis Italiano kept his place in goal with regular number one Glen Moss cooling his heels on the bench.

Stung into life and needing a draw to confirm second place in the A-League's regular season, Victory came out firing in the second half, laying siege to Italiano's goal. But the Phoenix expertly soaked up the pressure and held firm, marshalled brilliantly by skipper Andrew Durante. As well as the outstanding Bonevacia, Kosta Barbarouses continued his recent resurgence, giving his former team-mates a hectic night.

With eighteen minutes remaining, Spanish defender Alan Baro was sent off after he brought Barbarouses down as he sped towards goal, denying the kiwi flier a clear scoring opportunity and reducing his own side to ten men.

Shane Smeltz iced the cake in the final minute, tapping in a Tom Doyle cross to seal the points.

The result leaves Wellington four points behind sixth-placed Perth Glory with two regular season games remaining, meaning the Phoenix will still have to win one and probably both of their remaining two matches, while hoping Glory slip up in their last two outings.

The Phoenix next face runaway leaders Sydney FC in Wellington on Saturday night.

- NZ Herald

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