Wellington Phoenix earned a rare win in their final Hyundai A-League game of the 2017-18 season to edge ahead of Central Coast Mariners and avoid the wooden spoon on 14 April, as they came from behind to down third-placed Melbourne City 2-1 in front of 4,312 fans at Auckland's QBE Stadium.
Having propped up the table for 21 of the previous 26 rounds, the formbook pointed to the home team maintaining their little-fancied place on the standings. But caretaker coach Chris Greenacre - the third time he has held the reins in this capacity - urged his charges to defy the odds, and to the undisguised delight of their long-suffering fans, Wellington delivered.
It certainly didn't look likely early doors, however, with City taking charge from the outset. Indeed, inside the first two minutes of play, Luke Brattan unleashed a twenty-five yarder which was only narrowly astray, the culmination of a neat interchange of play involving Bruno Fornaroli and former Wellington striker Dario Vidosic.
The overlapping Nathaniel Atkinson gave the home team cause for concern aplenty during this early phase of the contest, with a couple of the fullback's searching deliveries causing consternation in Wellington's penalty area. From one, in the ninth minute, Fornaroli went close with an artful effort on goal.
From the resulting goal-kick, Wellington launched a lively raid, sparked by Matija Ljujic's slick back-heel on half-way. Goran Paracki slipped the ball to Michael McGlinchey, whose angled pass released Sarpreet Singh at pace down the left.
His searching cross was met by Roy Krishna, whose close-range diving header looked certain to open the scoring until Dean Bouzanis produced a quite stunning one-handed reflex save to keep the visitors on level terms.
Normal service soon resumed, with Daniel Arzani evading the offside trap before looking to pick out Vidosic on the far post. Dylan Fox's timely intervention foiled that attack, while Oliver Sail parried Oliver Bozanic's twenty yarder to safety on the quarter hour after Vidosic and Scott Jamieson combined to work an opening for Arzani on the right.
Melbourne finally contrived the breakthrough they sought in the nineteenth minute, and the outstanding quality of the strike made the wait worthwhile. Fornaroli retrieved the ball on the left before linking with Vidosic, who slipped it into the stride of Stefan Mauk as he stormed into the penalty area.
Andrew Durante's timely tackle thwarted his progress, with the ball landing at the feet of Fornaroli. Without taking a touch to control it, the Uruguayan unleashed a quite superb curling effort which arced around all-comers before cannoning into the net via the far post - in a word unstoppable!
After taking the lead, City eased off the throttle somewhat, and Wellington looked to redress the balance, Ljujic in particular a prominent figure in their efforts to do so. His driving run in the 28th minute presented Krishna with a great chance, but the Fijian was clearly in two minds about shooting or trying to play in Nathan Burns, and as a result, produced something in between.
Back came Melbourne on the half-hour, Brattan and Mauk combining with the overlapping Jamieson, whose low cross invited Brattan to shoot. The covering figure of Liberato Cacace blocked this effort at the near post.
Twelve minutes before half-time, Wellington restored parity. Krishna swooped on a stray pass and linked with Ljujic, whose first-time pass into
the feet of Singh allowed the youngster to shield the ball well before turning and arrowing a low angled drive across Bouzanis into the far corner of the net - 1-1.
The equaliser surprised Melbourne, who struggled to respond to it. Wellington looked to take full advantage, and three minutes before half-time, Cacace's powerhouse run through a swathe of opponents culminated in him unleashing a ferocious drive which cannoned off Bouzanis, as opposed to the 'keeper saving it.
Krishna latched onto the rebound, only to see his effort blocked by Osama Malik. City scrambled the ball to safety, and sparked a counter-attack down the right featuring Arzani, whose cross for Brattan was intercepted by Fox.
His clearance up-field had Krishna in hot pursuit, until Bart Schenkeveld deliberately charged into the Fijian off the ball, allowing his defensive partner, Malik, to mop up. Remarkably, the match officials saw no offence in the Dutchman's actions, which were worthy of a caution at the very least.
Sensing the momentum was with them after the equaliser, Wellington came out for the second half eager to build on their goal. Bouzanis was forced into saves from both Ljujic and Krishna inside the first eleven minutes of the second spell, with Fornaroli blazing a great chance wildly over the bar in between times as Atkinson led a City counter-attack.
To the delight of the local faithful, Wellington took the lead in the 57th minute. McGlinchey picked out Singh once more, and the youngster surged forward before unleashing a twenty yarder which took a deflection off Schenkeveld which completely wrong-footed Bouzanis - 2-1 to the home team, and an upset on the cards to boot.
City weren't going to take this blow lying down, and within four minutes, Fornaroli was bringing the best out of Sail. But the visitors were struggling to wrestle control back from Wellington, with Bozanic in particular riding a fine line on the fouls front during this period of the game - how he escaped being booked for persistent infringement defies logic!
Wellington maintained the edge, however, Burns linking with Krishna in the 66th minute to allow the Fijian to let fly from twenty yards. Bouzanis blocked this piledriver to safety, and was rather relieved six minutes later to see Krishna sky one from three yards out on the stretch as he looked to turn home McGlinchey's cross to the far post.
Another McGlinchey delivery seven minutes from time resulted in Ljujic directing a header over the bar, soon after Durante and Sail had combined to thwart Fornaroli as City began to press for an equaliser.
They lacked a cutting edge to their attacking thrusts, however, and it wasn't until the very last minute of stoppage time that Wellington's lead was threatened. The post came to their rescue, however, Vidosic's header, from Nick Fitzgerald's cross, crashing against the upright before rebounding to safety, ensuring Wellington would record a shock 2-1 win in their final match of a far from memorable season.
Wellington: Sail; Galloway (Ridenton, 82), Durante, Fox, Cacace; McGlinchey, Paracki (Rossi, 82), Ljujic (booked, 32) (Rogerson, 87); Burns, Krishna, Singh (booked, 84)
Melbourne: Bouzanis; Atkinson (Muscat, 84), Schenkeveld, Malik, Jamieson (Delbridge, 88); Bozanic, Brattan, Mauk (Fitzgerald, 73); Arzani, Fornaroli, Vidosic
Referee: Shaun Evans