Reigning A-League champions Sydney FC may not be in the finals but it did not stop them from outclassing the Wellington Phoenix tonight. Vitezslav Lavicka tuned up his Sky Blues nicely for the start of the Asian Champions League next month with a comfortable 2-0 win over the sixth-placed Phoenix who are still in danger of falling out of the finals race.
Sydney notched up their fourth win from their past seven outings (including three draws) thanks to an own goal from Nick Ward ten minutes into the second half before substitute Brendan Gan wrapped up the points with just over 20 minutes remaining.
The situation could have been far worse for the Phoenix if it wasn't for goalkeeper Danny Vukovic who produced a brilliant display between the sticks, making no less than 11 saves.
Ricki Herbert's men are still only six points clear of their only danger, Newcastle Jets, who have two matches in hand but if they manage to salute in both of them and the Phoenix lose to North Queensland Fury on the weekend - well it would spell disaster for the New Zealanders.
Hiro Moriyasu had a good early chance in the fourth minute with a swinging shot from long range but Phoenix keeper Danny Vukovic was able to cover before he again bailed his side out less than a minute later with a top save when Bruno Cazarine somehow got free in the area after getting rid of a protesting Jade North.
In the 11th minute, Vukovic made his third save when Finnish striker Juho Makela got on the end of a long ball but the former Central Coast Mariners custodian managed to dive to his left to keep his side in the contest before he was left badly exposed again when he came out to meet Nick Carle's toe-poke and then again kept out Makela as the Sky Blues ran the Phoenix defence ragged.
Just prior to the 20-minute mark, Wellington midfielder Nick Ward tried to spark his side into action when he drew a very sharp save out of Liam Reddy with a curling shot from outside the area.
Vukovic was playing an enormous game, coming up with another crucial save when he dived acrobatically to his left to again deny Moriyasu in the 22nd minute after the Japanese midfielder was played in by a nice Carle backheel before the game died down for a few minutes.
Sydney were doing everything but scoring and could have gone ahead but for a great tackle on Makela from young defender James Musa on the half-hour mark before the visitors began to wrestle back control of the match, led by young gun Marco Rojas.
Although it didn't last for long as Sydney had a few more chances late in the half and it was that man again, Vukovic, who produced another stellar save from a strong Cazarine shot as somehow the Phoenix went into half-time on even terms after nine saves from their goalkeeper.
Phoenix midfielder Tim Brown had the first chance of the second half with a well-struck volley from way out but Reddy was equal to the task before the home side were awarded a penalty in the 54th minute when Musa clattered into the back of Carle with a clumsy challenge in the area. GOAL Carle's spot-kick was saved by Vukovic before the talented keeper then blocked the follow-up by the former Crystal Palace playmaker but unfortunately that deflection bounced off Ward's face and into the back of the net - a bizarre way for Vukovic to finally get beaten.
Carle came close to a second for his side in the 64th minute when he found acres of space in front of him but he was unable to guide a chipped ball into the back of the net despite an advancing Vukovic being way out of his own area.
GOAL For all their dominance, Sydney went two ahead in the 69th minute when Shannon Cole made a nice run down the right, nutmegging Tony Lochhead, before supplying a ball for Carle's replacement Brendan Gan who swept it home giving the Phoenix defence no chance.
Gan was full of confidence after the goal and forced another save out of Vukovic in the 74th minute before the game really fizzed out allowing the home side to soak up the pressure and enjoy their final home game of the season which could have ended perfectly when Cole's late crack hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced out in injury time.
Subs - Reece Crowther (gk), Sean Lovemore (65'), Oscar Roberto Cornejo (73'), Aaron Clapham