The Wellington Phoenix have been beaten 3-1 by top of the table Sydney FC in the first game back in the A-League.
The Phoenix opened the scoring with a Reno Piscopo penalty midway through the second half, before Sydney scored three goals in the last 15 minutes.
Substitute Trent Buhagiar scored a two late goals in a three-minute burst to give the champions all the points.
The fleet-footed Buhagiar struck into an open goal to put the home side 2-1 in front in the 88th minute after goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic charged off his line on a soggy evening at Jubilee Stadium in western Sydney.
Buhagiar sealed the win two minutes later with a neat dink over Marinovic after his first attempt rebounded off the keeper.
“It’s a great feeling coming on, having such a long time off,” Buhagiar said. “It pushes us close to the title.”
Sydney cemented top spot in the league with six rounds to complete before the playoffs, while third-placed Phoenix remain one point ahead of Brisbane Roar.
Australia’s top flight was suspended in March due to Covid-19 and has had a rocky path back to resumption.
A crowd of about 1800 shrugged off anxiety over the virus and braved the rainy conditions to take in an entertaining clash between the champions and the New Zealanders, who have been camped in Australia for a month due to travel restrictions.
Sydney midfielder Luke Brattan tested Marinovic three times in a scoreless opening half before the home side fell 1-0 behind when Reno Piscopo slotted a 66th minute penalty.
With the league having decided to suspend the use of the Video Assistant Referee for the rest of the regular season, a number of contentious decisions went unchecked.
Each team had a handball appeal turned down, while the Phoenix had an 84th minute goal disallowed when Davila’s shot deflected off a player who was ruled offside.
“I believe tonight there was some decisions that influenced the result that didn’t favour us,”‘ said Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay, who felt VAR should have been retained.
It’s one game and I’m very happy with the performance.”