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Surman header takes Phoenix back to top

The Wellington Phoenix have reached new heights in the A-League.

The Phoenix have beaten the Melbourne Victory 1-0 on a wet night at Wellington's Sky Stadium, thanks to Finn Surman’s 95th-minute match-winner, to reclaim top spot and secure the club’s highest regular season finish with two rounds still to play.

The result lifted the Nix to 49 points, three clear of the premiership rivals Central Coast Mariners and eight above the third-placed Victory, meaning Wellington are guaranteed a top-two finish and a bye in the first week of the A-League playoffs.

“It’s a little bit surreal,” Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano said.“This is the highest amount of points the club has ever achieved [and] the highest position they’ve achieved, and I’m stoked now that we’re going to have an opportunity to play at home in front of a Wellington crowd to get to a grand final.

“The accolades deserve to go to the players, not myself.

“I want the group to do the most they can do as a group and there’s a lot of belief with these guys. I just want to keep pushing them and making sure they don’t regret this opportunity.

“Am I stoked? Yes, I am. But again, it’s not about me, it’s more about the club.”

Finn Surman Wellington Phoenix A-League football
Finn Surman claimed his first A-League goal in the Phoenix's 1-0 win. PHOTO: DAVE LINTOTT PHOTOGRAPHY

The result also puts the pressure back on Central Coast in the race for the Premiers Plate. The Mariners visit Western United on Saturday (kick-off 9.30pm NZ Time).

“That’s the whole idea. I think even a draw would have put pressure on them because they know they have to win.

“One thing we expressed is if we can get the win, we put pressure on them and then it takes the focus off us again.

“Maybe a good thing is them winning tomorrow [as] it will keep our guys on their toes for next week. Whatever challenge we get we’ll prepare for.”

Italiano made three changes to the XI which started last week’s 2-1 defeat at Central Coast, with captain Alex Rufer, All Whites fullback Tim Payne and midfielder Mo Al-Taay returning to the side in place of Nicholas Pennington, Matt Sheridan and Lukas Kelly-Heald.

The Victory had a couple of early corners but were not able to threaten the Phoenix goal from either. The Nix looked the more threatening of the two sides in what was a surprisingly open first half played in persistent rain.

Al-Taay had the first shot of the match in the eighth minute after some good lead-up work from Bozhidar Kraev, but his effort from the edge of the visitors’ box was straight at Victory ‘keeper Paul Izzo.

Izzo was not troubled a handful of minutes later either when he was called upon to make his second save as Youstin Salas slipped as he shot, again from outside the penalty area.

The Victory had the next three shots in the next quarter of an hour, but all of them were blocked by the ever-resolute Wellington defence.

The Phoenix had a chance to break the deadlock in the 34th minute when Kosta Barbarouses got in behind the visitors’ back four and delivered a cutback to the edge of the six-yard box. Unfortunately for the Nix Ben Old was unable to make proper contact with his first-time shot and sent it wide.

Melbourne forward Ben Folami flashed an effort into the side netting five minutes out from halftime. It was the only one of Victory’s first half attempts on goal that wasn’t blocked.

Old looked to create a breakthrough in time added on when he got to the byline and stood up a cross but it eluded all of his Wellington teammates and it remained scoreless at halftime.

Surman had the Phoenix’s first opportunity of the second half when he flicked on a Kraev header from a corner, but again the shot was straight at Izzo.

Old curled a shot with his less-favoured right foot narrowly wide of the right post soon after as the Nix got back into their rhythm.

Wellington looked the more likely side to end the stalemate but they struggled to find the final pass to unlock the visitors’ defence.

Kraev also shot just wide to the right in the 75th minute and it appeared it just would not be the Phoenix’s night.

Alex Paulsen was largely unemployed in Wellington’s goal but he made a crucial save in the 78th minute to push a shot from Victory striker Bruno Fornaroli around his left-hand post.

Wellington Phoenix fans
Shirts came off as soon as Finn Surman's header hit the back of the net. PHOTO: DAVE LINTOTT PHOTOGRAPHY

The rest of the action came in second-half stoppage-time.

Ben Old poked a shot wide of goal in the third minute of time added on after Melbourne ‘keeper Paul Izzo parried Barbarouses’ free-kick into Old’s path.

Two minutes later the Nix finally broke the Victory’s resistance. Substitute Oskar van Hattum delivered a pinpoint right-wing free-kick and Surman won the physical battle with his opposite Roderick Miranda and found the back of the net, sparking wild scenes.

While dubbed an own goal in some quarters, Surman claimed his maiden A-League goal and celebrated in style.

The Phoenix will watch the Mariners on Saturday night against Western United before turning their attentions to next Friday night’s match against Newcastle Jets at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Finn Surman 90+5') Melbourne Victory 0. HT: 0-0


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