The Wellington Phoenix extended their 16-game winning streak at home to down the Central Coast Mariners 3-0 and secure a home semifinal in their A-League football clash tonight.
Ahead 1-0 at halftime, the Phoenix ran riot with two goals in as many minutes late in the second half, the win securing their fourth spot on the table and earning them a home match against either the Perth Glory or the Newcastle Jets next weekend.
On a high after a 1-0 away victory over Gold Coast last Sunday, the Phoenix showed real intent from the kick-off despite brisk northerlies and sweeping rain.
They were rewarded in the 15th minute when a beautifully weighted through ball from Vince Lia was picked up by Manny Muscat, whose cross found the head of Tim Brown to devastating effect. It was his Brown's seventh goal of the season, and lifted the Phoenix into launching a concerted wave of attacks on the Mariners goal.
Perhaps their best chance to extend the lead came soon after when Leo Bertos rounded an uncharacteristically indecisive Mariners keeper Danny Vukovic as he scrambled on the slippery surface.
Bertos did well to pull the ball back, but Brown arrived a fraction too late as the Mariners defenders shut down the box.
Despite a 3-0 win over Newcastle last week - their first win since November - the Mariners were well out of finals contention. However, their motivation to send retiring coach Lawrie McKinna out on a positive note should have seen more attacking football than was on show, particularly in the first spell.
Missing central defender Pedj Bojic through suspension, and Adam Kwasnik (thigh) and Chris Doig (groin) through injury, Central Coast struggled to pressure the Phoenix on attack, with striker Matt Simon cutting a lonely figure up front.
The Phoenix, who beat Central Coast 2-0 when they last met in December, controlled the midfield with ease and showed composure up front, with Paul Ifill in particular proving a handful for the Mariners' defence.
Given the Wellington-based team's dominance in terms of possession and territory, coach Ricki Herbert must have been slightly concerned at the halftime 1-0 margin. The Phoenix had eight attempts on goal to the Mariners' one, and with Ifill in imperious form, finding space and running at will, the lead could easily have been more.
The Mariners came out fighting in the second half, pushing forward in support of Simon, and offering far less room to the Phoenix in the midfield. But the Wellington team battled on, and Ifill made it 2-0 in the 77th minute after Daniel, just on for Bertos, sent a beautiful ball in to Chris Greenacre, whose volley was parried clear by Vukovic only to see Ifill on the spot to tap in.
Barely a minute later, Ifill made it 3-0 and collected his 12th goal of the season after confusion at a Mariners free kick saw the Phoenix poach possession, and Ifill drill home from close range to underline the comprehensive win.
Wellington Phoenix 3 (Tim Brown 14th, Paul Ifill 79th, 81st) Central Coast Mariners 0. HT: 1-0