The Wellington Phoenix have gained possession of the A-League's most undesirable item - the wooden spoon - after a 3-2 loss to Melbourne Victory at Westpac Stadium last night.
It is the club's second last-placed finish in six years of existence, having also collected the spoon in the inaugural 2007-08 campaign.
The defeat left them level on 27 points with Melbourne Heart, but with a vastly inferior goal differential of -18 to the Heart's -9.
It was an appropriate end to a horror season, which claimed the scalp of coach Ricki Herbert, the record reading seven wins, six draws and 14 losses.
Despite that, interim coach Chris Greenacre said he was proud of his players.
"When Jonathan [assistant coach Jonathan Gould] and I took over five weeks ago I just asked the players to eat, live and breathe the football club, and they've done that," Greenacre said.
"It was important that we gave players direction on how we wanted to do things and that was to play attacking, expansive football. I think today's been a perfect example of what we've asked them to do."
Two second-half goals in two minutes, to Stein Huysegems and Jeremy Brockie, gave a loyal crowd of 6813 reason for cheer after Marco Rojas and Marcos Flores had put the visitors 2-0 up.
But an old Phoenix tormenter, Archie Thompson, popped up to score a late winner.
The Victory secured third place with the win and they will host an elimination final against Perth on Friday. Adelaide will host Brisbane in Sunday's second elimination final with minor premiers Western Sydney and second-placed Central Coast having the weekend off.
Retiring goalkeeper Mark Paston was given the honour of wearing the captain's armband but he was forced to fetch the ball from the back of his net in the 10th minute.
Former Phoenix star Rojas was booed every time he got on the ball but he silenced the crowd with the opening goal.
Thompson played Connor Pain in behind Manny Muscat and Paston slipped as he advanced to try and snuff out the danger.
Pain squared the ball for Rojas, who tapped in for his 15th goal of the season - one behind Brockie and two behind golden boot winner Daniel McBreen.
The Phoenix squandered several gilt-edged chances and an unmarked Flores made them pay after halftime when he got the final touch to a Rojas corner for a scrappy goal.
Huysegems started the comeback in the 65th minute when he controlled Leo Bertos' cross with his chest and lashed home a volley from close range.
And just a minute later it was all square as Brockie got behind some lazy Victory defence and latched on to a Paul Ifill cross to score.
It was end to end stuff but the ageless Thompson had the last laugh in the 84th minute as the Phoenix were caught napping.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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