The Wellington Phoenix are just one win away from breaking their A-League playoff drought, but with the way things are going, their sights might have to be set even higher.
A David Williams hat-trick produced a pivotal 4-1 victory over the Newcastle Jets in Wellington tonight - the Phoenix's third win on the trot, and just one shy of their all-time record winning streak. Most importantly though, it was a victory that moves them 11 points clear of the seventh-placed Jets, with just four games remaining.
So, unless disaster strikes, the Phoenix will be back playing finals football for the first time in four years, and the question instead becomes how successful they can be once they get there.
To maximise their chances, they'd want a home playoff game, given they have now just lost one of their last nine games in home conditions. That luxury would require finishing third or fourth – anything higher is mathematically unrealistic – and it looks like the Phoenix will be in a race for that honour with Melbourne City over the season's final showdowns.
Perhaps that is looking too far ahead, however. The Phoenix deserve to bask in their recent form, which has seen them bang in 15 goals in their last three games, despite missing some key contributors against the Jets.
The league's top goalscorer, Roy Krishna, was suspended, while only two of the Phoenix's imports made the starting XI, with Steven Taylor and Michal Kopczynski failing late fitness tests, and Cillian Sheridan named on the bench.
In the past, that probably would have been a destruction of depth too much for the hosts to overcome, but the Phoenix have a bit more about them this season – a fact that was shown within 30 seconds, when Williams spectacularly opened the scoring.
Played in on goal from the returning Sarpreet Singh after a sweeping move, Williams guided a classy finish past advancing Jets goalkeeper Glen Moss – a clinical early strike which was subsequently followed by 2630 seconds of toil.
The Jets largely controlled possession but struggled to get shots on target, while both teams swung crosses into the box with unsurprisingly little reward. Phoenix custodian Filip Kurto at least had to be awake to the Jets' balls into the box, punching several clear, and when he was finally tested early in the second half, he was alert, clawing away the scrappy products of a goalmouth scramble.
It looked as if the Jets were building something, and a suspected broken foot to Louis Fenton added to the Phoenix's concerns, but a VAR decision saw the Phoenix given a penalty when Williams was brought down inside the box, and he duly dispatched the spot-kick low to Moss' right. While Roy O'Donovan responded just two minutes later for the Jets, it turned out they simply had no answers for the wonderful Williams.
Just three minutes after the Jets had seemingly given themselves a chance, Williams cut in from the left, and from outside of the area curled a glorious effort into the top right corner, once again leaving Moss hopelessly stranded.
Singh added a fourth with his own superb curling effort, and four will be the number on the Phoenix's minds next week – with a chance to claim a record-equalling fourth win in a row, and a chance to finally break that four-year playoff drought.
Phoenix 4 (D. Williams 3, S. Singh)
Jets 1 (R. O'Donovan)