Victory romps to 3-0 win over Phoenix
Melbourne Victory spent 90 minutes making it clear to the Newcastle Jets - win on Saturday night or we're coming to get your A-League finals spot.
The A-League champions kept alive their hopes of grabbing the last remaining top four place by beating Wellington Phoenix 3-0 at Telstra Dome - destroying them with a powerhouse first 45 minutes reminiscent of their championship form last season.
First half strikes from Carlos Hernandez and Nick Ward, and a late goal to substitute Kaz Patafta secured Melbourne the win.
Costa Rican international Hernandez was near unstoppable as the Victory tormented the A-League's worst defence.
The Victory (26 points) now climb to two points behind the fourth-placed Jets (28pts), though Newcastle play Central Coast Mariners on Saturday night and can wrap up a finals spot with a win there, or at home against Perth Glory next weekend.
But should the Jets fail to gain maximum points against the Mariners, it will add to the momentum of the Victory's post-Christmas charge at a finals berth which looked well out of reach less than a fortnight ago.
The three goals also helped reduce the Jets' goal difference advantage over the Victory - Melbourne now at zero with Newcastle at plus two.
Adelaide United (23pts), who play Perth on Sunday, also remain in the hunt for the last finals position with a plus one goal difference.
With Hernandez playing a more advanced role after Danny Allsopp was ruled out with a virus, the Victory launched 12 shots on goal to the Phoenix's zero.
Hernandez hit the bar twice in three minutes midway through the term, before latching on to some great interplay between Adrian Caceres, Archie Thompson and a final pass from Ward to put his side a goal up after 31 minutes.
Four minutes later, Ward made it 2-0, with Caceres skinning Phoenix defender Steven O'Dor then laying off to the Olyroo to bash home.
Patafta then added an emphatic exclamation mark two minutes from time, striking home from close range.
Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick paid tribute to his side's performance, noting it both upped the pressure on Newcastle to get a result against Central Coast and possibly sets the stage for a thrilling last round clash against Sydney FC next weekend.
"To put on a performance like that, a 3-0 win, 10 goals in the last three games, doesn't that put the pressure on Newcastle?" Merrick said.
"It could be a very exciting last round but we'll have to see how Newcastle go under pressure - knowing they have to get a win against the top side."
Wellington coach Ricki Herbert said he was pleased with his side's better second half effort after they struggled to contain the Victory in the first.
"The first 45 minutes, with Melbourne having more of a target to grab with a finals shot not out of reach for them, we were a bit flat to get cracking," Herbert said.
"They had to win the game, and they were probably a bit more aggressive than if they didn't (have to win)."