Sydney FC earned itself a week off with a tight 2-1 victory over the Wellington Phoenix in what was essentially the battle for second place.
The loss means Wellington drops to fourth place on the competition ladder, meaning it hosts Melbourne City in the second of two elimination finals played next week.
Roly Bonevacia passed up an early opportunity from the penalty spot after Bernie Ibini was adjudged to have clipped Michael McGlinchey inside the area. With Vederan Janjetovic standing tall, the Dutch midfielder skewed his effort wide and would rue his missed opportunity just four minutes later when Ibini powered home from a tight angle.
Sydney would make it 2-0 later in the first half. Former Phoenix star Shane Smeltz stepped up and showed Bonevacia exactly how to execute from the penalty spot after youngster Chris Naumoff was too quick for Albert Riera.
Not long into the second half and the Phoenix were thrown a lifeline, with Michael Boxall converting from close range just seconds after the restart. Wellington pushed valiantly but were professionally shut out by Graham Arnold’s men with the match ending 2-1.
Penalty prowess proves the difference
For Ernie Merrick’s men it is a case of what could have been if Bonevacia had been more clinical from the spot. A strange option for the spot-kick, Bonevacia has not stepped up all year to fix an issue that has plagued the Phoenix’s season.
Missing penalties on five occasions throughout the year and scoring just three times from the spot, the Phoenix will need to find their form from 12 yards heading into their elimination final against Melbourne City.
Sydney FC, on the other hand, has not suffered from the same issue. Standing in for Marc Janko today, Shane Smeltz looked cool as ever in front of his former home crowd to gift the Sky Blues a two-goal lead.
Ibini hitting his straps
Round 27 saved some of the best goals for last. And after viewing Tarek Elrich’s stunning solo goal against Melbourne City, Bernie Ibini thought it was his turn to apply for the goal of the season award.
Just four minutes after conceding a penalty, Ibini picked the ball up high on the left wing, first cutting in onto his favoured right foot before dragging the ball to his left and firing a ferocious shot high into the far corner of the net.
That goal made it three in as many games and Marc Janko now looks to have a goalscoring partner in crime come finals time.
One goal, the world of difference
Going into the match just one point apart, both teams were looking to cement a week off and the preliminary home final that came with it.
While just one goal separated the two sides on the day, they are now worlds apart in terms of championship chances. Sydney FC needs just one win to guarantee a grand final berth but the Phoenix must survive a home elimination final before traveling to either Sydney or Melbourne to play for a place in the final.
Graham Arnold will obviously be pleased with the result, but might not have minded a loss conceding his side are yet to be beaten on the road.