Victory fight back to claim dramatic late win over Phoenix
A flat and frustrated Melbourne Victory side produced a stunning comeback to defeat the lowly Wellington Phoenix 2-1 at AAMI Park on Sunday night.
The Victory battled all night to get a foothold in the game, and it took an 83rd-minute equaliser from Leroy George and a 88th-minute winner from Kenny Athiu to see Kevin Muscat's side past the Phoenix.
Wellington suprised the modest home crowd of 13,182 with their effort in the game, no more so than after shooting into the lead in the 23rd minute after Victory defender Leigh Broxham was pressured into scoring an embarrassing own goal. Victory's early slip set the tone for a mostly lacklustre affair at AAMI Park.
But star man George - introduced into the match in the 54th minute - equalised via a penalty in the 83rd minute after Kenny Athiu was fouled on a run through Wellington's box.
Athiu turned matchwinner soon after, heading home a James Troisi cross from close range. Depending on other results, Victory are in the box seat to play a home elimination final and could leapfrog rivals Melbourne City to third.
Victory's sloppy showing came off the back of a taxing week of Asian Champions League travel that saw them complete two 20-hour trips between Melbourne and South Korea, and a spirit-sapping 6-2 away loss to Ulsan Hyundai.
Muscat made four changes to the side that were trounced in the ACL, with Carl Valeri, Josh Hope, Leroy George and Kosta Barbarouses (suspended) making way for Matias Sanchez, Jai Ingham, Christian Theoharous and Terry Antonis. Victory were also missing their best defender Rhys Williams through suspension.
For the own goal, Broxham briefly lost his opponent Thomas Doyle at a corner with the pair falling to the ground as the ball reached them. It bobbled up, seemingly off Broxham's arm, onto the grass next to Broxham who was on his back, and when he tried to clear the ball he instead knocked it into his own net.
It was a moment worthy of Victory's performance in the opening half.
The opening stanza effort was one of their most dismal in recent memory, as the side lacked any meaningful creativity in the forward half of the pitch.
And while Wellington have endured a torrid season they still posess some potent attacking weapons - namely winger Nathan Burns, Matija Ljujic, Sarpreet Singh and Roy Krishna.
The visitors weren't dazzling by any means but they played with the freedom of a team not counting on a result, while finals-bound Victory lumbered about the pitch, often chasing their opponents who regularly got in behind the home defence.
Victory's best pair of chances in the first half fell to Antonis and Besart Berisha, the former scuffing his lunging effort high and wide and the latter forcing a good save from Phoenix keeper Oliver Sail.
George was typically mesmerising when introduced, drawing timid defenders to him at will, while Athiu's efforts winning the penalty and scoring the winner represented what is to date his best performance for Melbourne Victory.
Victory play Sydney FC away on Friday night.