Sydney FC miss out on A-League Men finals for the first time in six years, Wellington Phoenix progress

Wellington Phoenix have locked up the final slot in the A-League Men (ALM) finals by defeating Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1.

Reno Piscopo’s second-half strike proved the difference on Thursday night after Sam Sutton and Tomer Hemed exchanged first-half goals, the win giving the Kiwi side an unassailable lead over Sydney FC on the ALM table.

Even if the Sky Blues win their two remaining games, they will be unable to close the eight-point gap that now exists between them and the sixth-placed Phoenix.

After being so dominant for so long, the five-time ALM champions will miss the finals for the first time since the 2015-16 season.

They had not finished lower than second since that underwhelming campaign.

Forced to base themselves in New South Wales for almost all of the past two seasons, due to COVID-19 international travel restrictions, Phoenix missed out on finals by a single point last campaign, but have gone one better this time around.

“I’m glad that we did it on our own, won the game tonight and didn’t rely on other results to go our way,” coach Ufuk Talay said.

Wellington missed finals last season by a single point in a pandemic-interrupted campaign.(Getty Images: Icon Sportswire/Steven Markham)

“We’ve worked hard to get to this point.

“We took a lot of lessons from last season: the things that we could control, what we could do this season.

“I’m very proud of the group, of the staff, the club and what they’ve achieved.”

Phoenix will target a possible fourth-placed finish and a home final when they play Melbourne City on Monday, although walking-wounded attacker David Ball will likely be rested.

“If he needs an extra few days to be ready for finals football, we’ll give him an extra few days,” Talay said.

With Sutton’s volleyed goal and Hemed’s spin-and-shoot effort cancelling each other out, it looked as if the finals race was set to remain open at the half-time break.

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However, with his side playing on the counter — Phoenix ended the game with just 28 per cent possession — Piscopo’s thunderbolt from the top of the box in the 65th minute proved definitive.

Hearts were in visiting mouths as Oliver Sail tipped a Jarrod Carluccio shot onto the post in the 83rd and Hemed headed into the post in the 86th but they survived.

“Luck was not on our side. And, in sport, you need a bit of luck,” Wanderers coach Mark Rudan said.

“It’s not like we didn’t try. We got shots on goal and had the ball. They played on the counter-attack.

“And it took a world-class goal by Piscopo to do it.”

Meanwhile, reigning Premiers Melbourne City scuppered their chance to secure back-to-back titles after a shock 2-0 loss to bottom-placed Perth Glory on Wednesday.

The loss opens the door for one of Melbourne Victory or Western United to potentially claim the Premiership with one round remaining.

AAP/ABC

Reference-www.abc.net.au

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