Central Coast have played spoilsport in Wellington, ruining the Phoenix’s long awaited homecoming with a 4-0 A-League Men win.
Goals from Beni Nkololo, Jason Cummings, Moresche and Matthew Hatch secured three points on Sunday at Sky Stadium, where 18,184 turned out for New Zealand’s first A-League game in 11 months.
The Mariners enjoyed ruining their day, with best afield Nkololo playing the pantomime villain by putting fingers in his ears after scoring.
The result keeps Nick Montgomery’s side firmly in the finals frame, leaving them eighth and two points behind sixth-placed Macarthur with four games left.
“We had a target at the start of the year: to get in the FFA Cup final and to get in the top six,” Montgomery said.
“A lot of these boys have never been overseas for a football game … the FFA Cup final, that was first time some of the boys have been outside NSW.
“These are the games you want to play in. Fair play to the Phoenix fans.”
The crowd was the third-biggest this season, and the biggest to a Central Coast game for eight years.
Montgomery admitted his side had to “weather the storm” during the opening 25 minutes, with Wellington on top.
Ufuk Talay’s side were winded by a breakaway goal just 17 seconds after Mark Birighitti, on his 31st birthday, made the game’s best save.
David Ball, who spent all week in a moon boot due to ligament damage in his toe, won the ball back in midfield and raced forward, drawing the fine save from Birighitti.
The Mariners surged forward down the left flank, with Nkololo running onto a through-ball from Nicolai Muller and striking home at the far post.
“Goals change games,” Talay lamented.
“They scored a goal from nothing … that was very deflating to the players.”
After 62 minutes, Cummings made it two, reacting quickest when Moresche’s header hit the crossbar and arriving to head home.
Three minutes later, the Brazilian joined his fellow forward on the scoresheet, half-volleying a cross from Kiwi Storm Roux.
Central Coast swung changes and substitute Hatch netted in the 96th minute to seal their fine day out.
It comes 12 days after the Mariners skittled Wellington 5-0 in Gosford.
But it’s the Phoenix who are in control of their finals destiny, sitting fifth, although with the league’s second-worst goal difference of -14.
Talay said injuries and seven games in less than four weeks were hurting his side.
“It’s a loss, it’s a loss that we didn’t want. But at the end of the day we’re still in a great position to move forward,” Talay said.
The result was a complete reversal to last season’s homecoming, when Wellington beat Western United 3-0 after 14 months without playing at home.
They have a second chance for a win on home soil next week when they host Western Sydney Wanderers at Auckland’s Eden Park, with another big crowd expected.
The Kiwi fans will hope for more to cheer for, given their biggest roar came from a second-half streaker who made it into the box before being tackled by security.