Wellington Phoenix have dealt Western Sydney a major A-League blow with a 2-1 victory at Bankwest Stadium all but ending the Wanderers’ finals ambitions.
The seventh-placed visitors exploited the hosts’ weakness against setpieces, scoring two first-half goals from corners despite losing playmaker Reno Piscopo to an early shoulder injury which could potentially threaten his Olyroos aspirations.
The win stretched Wellington’s unbeaten run to nine games and closed the gap to sixth-placed Brisbane to just two points, while the Wanderers remain eighth, five points behind the Roar with just two games to play.
The desperate Wanderers laid siege to the Phoenix goal in the closing stages with Tim Payne making a crucial block from a close-range Tate Russell shot in stoppage time.
Piscopo came off with just 15 minutes completed after being on the wrong end of a foul from Ziggy Gordon four minutes earlier.
The Wanderers started well but Wellington lifted after Piscopo went off before the locals succumbed to a setpiece again – 20 out of 42 goals have been conceded via setpieces.
Wellington’s David Ball tapped in at the far post in the 24th minute after Wanderers midfielder Graham Dorrans headed a corner onto his own crossbar.
The Wanderers equaliser also came from a corner, with the Phoenix failing to clear the danger resulting in Keanu Baccus netting.
Western Sydney defender Dylan McGowan appeared to be in an offside position and goalkeeper Oliver Sail claimed to have been impeded in a halftime interview with Fox Sports, though VAR confirmed the goal.
Phoenix hit the front again in the 42nd minute when Israeli striker Tomor Hemed headed home from another corner without being challenged.
Wellington could have increased their lead but were denied by good saves from Wanderers No.1 Daniel Margush, who foiled Jaushua Sotirio, Payne and Cameron Devlin.
It was then the Wanderers’ turn to pile on the pressure with goalkeeper Oliver Sail denying Bruce Kamau, Hemed and Mark Natta.
Wanderers continued to turn the screw but Steven Ugarkovic, Bernie Ibini and Scott McGregor were all off target.