Western United’s finals hopes are up in smoke, falling 3-0 to the Wellington Phoenix in their first-game back on home soil in 433 days.
A record Wellington home-and-away crowd of 24,105 welcomed home the Phoenix, providing an immediate boost to the home-side who ran over their lethargic visitors – extending their winless run to six.
Clayton Lewis opened the scoring for Wellington late in the first-half before a quick-fire second-half double from Reno Piscopo and Tomer Hemed sealed the result.
With only three games remaining, Mark Rudan’s side sit six points behind sixth-placed Brisbane Roar and are one defeat away from sealing their fate.
Wellington, on the other hand, have closed the gap to only three points as they look to ride their eight-game undefeated run towards a finals berth.
Hemed, who was fresh off a brace the weekend before, was in the thick of Wellington’s early forays forcing a reflex save from Ryan Scott with a stinging long-range effort.
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Western were content to soak up the Phoenix’s early momentum, playing exclusively off the break but rarely troubled the home side’s disciplined defence throughout the first half.
However, Wellington’s dominance would finally be rewarded as Lewis’ shot from the edge of the area deflected in off Brendan Hamill to give Ufuk Talay’s side the all-important opener.
Knowing very well their finals hopes were hanging in the balance, United went in search for an equaliser but failed to convert a series of half-chances which ultimately proved costly.
After Western fluffed a 3v2 break at one end, the Phoenix broke with numbers and Piscopo capped off the counter firing in Wellington’s second from range.
From that point on, the home-side didn’t let-up and soon after put the final nail in the coffin as Hemed nodded home Louis Fenton’s cross.
RECORD CROWD WELCOMES PHOENIX HOME
It’s been a long 433 days between drinks for the Phoenix’s passionate faithful.
Wellington’s burgeoning rivalry with Western United, along with it being effectively an ‘elimination final’ for both teams was the perfect tonic to welcome home the Phoenix in-front of a record home and away crowd of 24,105.
After spending over half-a-year based in Wollongong, the ‘Nix will have one more game in their familiar surroundings as they welcome Perth to Auckland next Sunday.
TRAVEL CATCHES UP WITH TIRED UNITED
It all seemed so promising for Western United as they sat inside the top six a little less than a month ago.
However, fast-forward six games and a gruelling coast-to-coast travel schedule which has seen them play all over not only Australia but now in New Zealand may have caught up with them.
The defeat to Wellington now makes it six straight games without a win for Mark Rudan’s side.
After announcing his retirement in mid-week, Andrew Durante got the chance to say a final goodbye to the Wellington faithful.
The 39-year-old Western United defender spent the bulk of his career playing for Wellington, tallying over 270 games for the Phoenix over 11 years before departing for Victoria in 2019.
“I’ve had some amazing moments here so it was special to say goodbye tonight,” Durante told Sky Sports NZ post-game.