Melbourne Victory left it late to defeat Wellington Phoenix 2-1 in Round 26 of the Hyundai A-League at AAMI Park.
Kenny Athiu came off the bench to make a real impact on the game – winning a penalty before converting a diving header to claim all three points.
The first chance of the game fell to James Troisi, whose shot from range deflected off a Phoenix defender and comfortably into the hands of Wellington goalkeeper Oliver Sail.
In the 19th minute, Stefan Nigro fizzed a low cross towards the far post, but the outstretched boot of Terry Antonis failed to find the target.
Lawrence Thomas was called into action three minutes later, when a smart Wellington move forced the Victory keeper into making a brilliant save.
However, in the 23rd minute the visitors took the lead. The Victory defence failed to clear a loose cross, resulting in Leigh Broxham converting the ball into his own net.
Both teams continued to create chances and Christian Theoharous was gifted with an opportunity to level the scores, after finding space in the penalty area. On this occasion, the winger volleyed the ball over the bar.
Early in the second half, Jai Ingham supplied a great ball into the path of Troisi, who could only find the side-netting.
In the 53rd minute, Kevin Muscat made two changes. Leroy George and Carl Valeri entered the field to replace Ingham and Matias Sanchez.
George soon tried his luck by cutting inside from the right, but his effort lacked accuracy and left Victory still goalless.
In the 72nd minute, Besart Berisha was replaced by Athiu and the substitute soon changed Victory’s fortune.
As the game drew to a close, Athiu’s agility in possession earned Victory a penalty – drawing a foul from Phoenix’s Dylan Fox. The consequent penalty was slotted home by George, making it 1-1 with eight minutes remaining.
In the 86th minute, Victory took the lead. Troisi’s assist was beautifully headed in by Athiu – a diving header from point-blank range.
What they said – Kevin Muscat
"The squad after January became a lot thinner, but the effort of the group since that period has been nothing short of outstanding.
"With a suspension here and an injury there and there it was going be tough. But tonight, the group showed an enormous amount of heart."
Hyundai A-League 2017/2018 Round 26
Melbourne Victory 2 (George pen 83’, Athiu 87’)
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Broxham o.g 23’)
Melbourne Victory: Thomas (GK), Broxham (C), Deng, Donachie, Nigro, Sanchez (Valeri 54’), Antonis, Troisi, Ingham (George 54’), Theoharous, Berisha (Athiu 72’)
Wellington Phoenix: Sail (GK), Fox, Durante (C), Cacace, Doyle (McGlinchey 45’), Ridenton, Paracki, Burns, Singh, Ljujic (Rufer 71’), Krishna (Rogerson 81’)
Yellow cards: Doyle 19’, Rufer 77’/90’, Theoharous 89’
Red cards: Rufer 90’
Venue: AAMI Park
On Friday, Victory is hosted by Sydney for the final Hyundai A-League game of the season before the Final Series.