Wellington Phoenix’s grip on an A-League home final berth has loosened after Melbourne Victory celebrated their last home game of a poor season with an emphatic 3-0 win.
In perhaps his last match in front of Victory’s fans, out-of-contract Costa Rican star Carlos Hernandez scored a sensational long-range goal in the 11th minute.
Substitute Isaka Cernak doubled the lead in the second half, before a thunderbolt from teenage midfielder Jimmy Jeggo close to fulltime capped the win.
They were far from the only opportunities for Melbourne, who dominated the disappointing visitors.
A heap of those fell to Archie Thompson, but the veteran striker could not break his scoring drought, which extended to 10 matches.
A Thompson header from a Hernandez free kick two minutes after the Costa Rican’s goal forced a sharp save from Wellington goalkeeper Mark Paston.
But Thompson’s closest effort came in the 32nd minute, when he found a way through two Phoenix defenders inside the penalty area, then ricocheted a right-footer off the inside of the right post across goal.
He frittered another golden opportunity 11 minutes into the second half, when Hernandez set him up virtually on the penalty spot.
But Thompson performed much better as provider two minutes later, his well-timed cross to the goal-mouth allowing a charging Cernak to lunge in and slot it home.
He also set up Jeggo for his maiden A-League goal, a blistering long-range strike in the 89th minute.
Wellington’s best opportunities fell to Tim Brown, who sprayed good close-range chances with his head in each half.
While Victory are out of finals contention, they at least delivered interim coach Jim Magilton the second win of his 11-match reign, which is expected to stretch into next season.
The loss could be costly for the Phoenix.
Even a draw would have all-but guaranteed them a home final.
Now, either or both of Melbourne Heart (fifth) and Newcastle Jets (sixth) can close to within two points of fourth-placed Wellington with a round to play, if they win their respective Saturday night matches.
Victory coach Jim Magilton could not explain why his side suddenly hit form once their finals chances were shot, saying their preparation and instructions had been no different from previously.
But he said it was a good sign.
“When you win 3-0 against a good side it’s encouraging,” Magilton said.
“It’s probably come a little bit too late. Well, it has come too late, but they are encouraging signs.
“Belief grows, hopefully the young players will take it on board.
“And I thought Harry (Kewell), Carlos (Hernandez) and Archie (Thompson) were very good tonight.
“That probably hasn’t happened consistently enough over the course of the season.”
Wellington coach Ricki Herbert left without attending his scheduled press conference.