Football: Late goal against Melbourne Victory clinches top-two finish for Wellington Phoenix in A-League playoff race

A 96th-minute goal - officially credited as an own goal by the Melbourne Victory defence - has propelled Wellington Phoenix back atop the A-League table, now guaranteed a top-two finish and playoff bye.

With a scoreless draw seemingly in the books, the Phoenix received a free-kick near the right sideline and substitute Oskar van Hattum lofted a pinpoint ball into the goalmouth, where it was deflected past Victory keeper Paul Izzo and into the net.

While the goal was declared a self-inflicted wound by defender and captain Roderick Miranda, Phoenix fullback Finn Surman was quick to claim credit and his teammates were only too happy to agree. 

Wellington Phoenix celebrate their winning goal against Melbourne Victory.
Wellington Phoenix celebrate their winning goal against Melbourne Victory. Photo credit: Photosport

"No chance, I 100 percent headed that," he insisted. "It might have come off him, but it was definitely going in anyway, so I claim that as my goal."

In torrential rain, the Phoenix had the better of the early running creating a series of half chances that went begging.

Midfielder Mohamed Al-Taay had the first shot on goal, but fired directly at Izzo. Moments later, defender Youstain Salas found the custodian with his strike.

Forward Bozidhar Kraev laid on a delightful ball for Ben Old unmarked inside the penalty box, but he opted to look for support and the opportunity was squandered. Twice Old went to ground in the area, without response from referee Daniel Elder. 

For most of the first half, Melbourne could not put a shot on target, but Old continued to ask questions of their defence, with a long run gifting Kosta Barbarouses another wasted chance.

Barbarouses tried to return the favour with a raid down the right, but Old was unable to keep his feet again in front of goal.

Finally, Melbourne forward Ben Folami unleashed a left-footed effort that found the side netting, while the Victory began to pile up corners on attack.

By halftime, they had attempted five corners to just one by the Phoenix, but keeper Alex Paulsen had been equal to the threat, usually punching clear. 

Melbourne defender Adama Traore had the first chance of the second half, snapping a left foot across the face of goal for another corner. Izzo managed to smother a dangerous Phoenix corner - their second of the match - and Old sent another rightfooted shot wide.

Introduced into the match for Al-Taay, David Ball almost found Kraev in front of goal, but the Bulgarian could not get enough on the ball to trouble Izzo. Both sides continued to threaten and Kraev unleashed from outside the box, just wide right. 

A Phoenix error in midfield presented Victory with a prime opportunity for striker Bruno Fornaroli, but Paulsen made a diving save.

Melbourne substitute Chris Ikonomidis created perhaps the best chance of the game so far in the 88th minute, when he floated a tantalising cross toward the far post, where Eli Adams lurked, but he could only find the side netting.

With regulation time up, Wellington had a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area, but Barbarouses' effort was blocked by Izzo into the path of Old, who pushed wide.

In added time, they had another near the sideline and van Hattum delivered the perfect that found Serman in a crowd to nod home. 

"We fought right to the end and I'm so pleased for the lads," reflected captain Alex Rufer. "We had a tough result last week, but I told the boys we needed to take how they felt into this game and I think we did that.

"We could have punished them a bit earlier, but we fought to the end and thoroughly deserved the win."

The result means the Phoenix - tipped by most to finish near the bottom of the table when the season began - can still take premiership honours, with rivals Central Coast Mariners to face Western United on Saturday.

They are guaranteed a bye in the opening week of the post-season and a home fixture in the second round.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Miranda own goal) Melbourne Victory 0