Roy Krishna has completed a record-breaking hat-trick to hand the Wellington Phoenix a late 3-2 win over Melbourne City and keep alive their hopes of hosting an A-League playoff.
Krishna tucked home the winner from a goalmouth scramble in the 94th minute to cap a thrilling contest on Sunday in Wellington which the visitors had mostly dominated.
Riley McGree scored twice for City, both times cancelling out Krishna strikes but the home team held firm to cement fifth place and line up a shot at a fourth-placed finish in next week’s final round.
Wellington sit one point behind Adelaide who can lock down fourth when they travel on Thursday to face Brisbane. If the Reds don’t win, the Phoenix can leapfrog them away to the Glory on Sunday in Perth.
City are all-but guaranteed to finish sixth, which would set up a Melbourne derby in the first round of the playoffs.
As has been the case for much of the campaign, red-hot striker Krishna proved the difference as he became the first player to notch 50 A-League goals in Phoenix colours.
His 18 this season are two more than Sydney FC’s Adam Le Fondre atop the Golden Boot race.
He also overtakes Jeremy Brockie as the leading scorer in a Phoenix season. Brockie notched 16 goals in 2012-13.
Coach Mark Rudan admitted Krishna’s finishing prowess was an obvious reason for the huge attacking strides made this year by the club.
“There’s been a huge change in him, not just mentally but physically. It’s the best shape he’s ever been in,” Rudan said.
“He’s played a massive role as to why we’re here and playing finals but there’s more to come from Roy.”
It was potentially the last game in Wellington for departing coach Rudan, who was given a rousing reception by Phoenix fans as he left the ground.
He praised his players’ fortitude after losses away to Adelaide and Brisbane.
“The most important thing was finding a way to win in injury time. Good teams do that … and you need a bit of momentum heading into the finals.”
City deserved to win on weight of possession and chances, unleashing nine shots on goal to six.
Wellington goalkeeper Filip Kurto was immense, making a handful of sharp saves as he did when the Phoenix won 1-0 when the teams met in January.
A counter-attack led to Krishna’s opener, a nifty finish after being played through by Max Burgess in the 27th minute.
City responded with McGree carefully placing the ball past Kurto in the 42nd minute, after the Polish gloveman had made successive reaction saves to two fearsome Jamie Maclaren strikes.
Krishna pounced against the run of play soon after the break, rifling home a left-foot strike from the top of the box.
McGree’s equaliser was high quality, twisting to connect first time with a clearance that was moving away from goal.