Visitors Melbourne Victory saw off a passionate performance from Wellington Phoenix to win 3-2, consigning the hosts to the A-League's wooden spoon
|By EMMA STONEY
Melbourne Victory have secured third place on the A-League ladder and consigned Wellington Phoenix to the wooden spoon with a 3-2 victory at Westpac Stadium on Sunday.
With less than 10 minutes to go it looked like the teams were heading for a draw, which would have lifted the Phoenix above Melbourne Heart on the A-League table, following their loss to Central Coast the previous day.
But Archie Thompson's 84th-minute strike sealed Wellington's fate and brought a disappointing close to a horror season which had promised so much but failed to deliver.
The defeat also signalled the end of goalkeeper Mark Paston's six-year Phoenix career, following the 36-year-old's announcement earlier in the day that he was retiring.
Paston, who was handed the captain's armband for his final match, will not want to see replays of Victory's opening goal as he slipped in the box to allow former Wellington team-mate Marco Rojas to shoot into an empty net.
Paston was then left stranded on his line as an unmarked Marcos Flores doubled Victory's lead in the second half.
Quickfire goals from Stein Huysegems and Jeremy Brockie gave the Phoenix a glimmer of hope of salvaging something from the season, only for Thompson to put the final nail in the coffin with little Paston could do about it.
Victory's win confirmed their third-place finish and an elimination final against Perth Glory on Friday.
Victory started the brighter of the two teams with returning internationals Mark Milligan, Rojas and Thompson quickly into their work.
It was Thompson's well-weighted pass to Connor Pain which set up Rojas' opener in the 10th minute. Pain beat Manny Muscat and squared the ball past a stranded Paston for Rojas to poke into the open goal.
That sparked Wellington into life and they began to take the game to Victory, with Paul Ifill in particular making good inroads down the right flank.
Ifill, Brockie, Huysegems and Corey Gameiro all forced saves from Nathan Coe, who looked nervous in the blustery conditions and put three goal kicks out of play.
Huysegems and Brockie forced a double save from Coe in the 17th minute and then a mazy run by Gameiro on the edge of the box ended with him shooting straight at the goalkeeper.
A few minutes later and the young Australian's glancing header deflected off the face of Milligan, who knew little about it.
The Phoenix's fate appeared sealed in the 56th minute, when Flores was left unmarked at the back post and deflected the ball home for Victory's second after Mullen had got a foot to a Rojas corner.
But two goals in the space of a minute sparked a dramatic turnaround for the home side, as Huysegems then Brockie found the target in quick succession.
The Belgian chested down a Bertos cross before blasting his left-footed shot past Coe. Then Brockie, who needed three goals to overtake Daniel McBreen in the golden boot race, got on the end of an Ifill cross to level the scores and bring up the Phoenix's 200th A-League goal.
But any joy at avoiding last place was quickly snuffed out when Thompson wrong-footed Muscat to latch on to a Billy Celeski free-kick and fire the ball past Paston.