Gutsy Phoenix sink Mariners

SHANE SMELTZ may lead the race for the Hyundai A-League’s Golden Boot award, but the Phoenix striker also knows how to use his head.

SHANE SMELTZ may lead the race for the Hyundai A-League-s Golden Boot award, but the Phoenix striker also knows how to use his head.

Smeltz bagged his 10th goal of the season, in just the game-s second minute, with his head to help steer the home side to a 1-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, on Friday night.

The win keeps the Phoenix right in the mix for a top-four spot in the Hyundai A-League, a huge boost for the club and 6722 fans that braved blustery conditions in the New Zealand capital.

Overall, the home side will look back on a match where they were shaded in terms of territory and possession, but relied on dogged and determined defence - along with a tireless midfield - to secure three competition points.

The home side got off to the perfect start when Leo Bertos had too much pace for his marker, Dean Heffernan, finding space and delivering a pinpoint right-footed cross to the far post where Smeltz was on hand, unmarked, to nod home past a helpless Danny Vukovic.

The Phoenix-s attacking intent was further illustrated when Bertos shot just wide from distance soon after, and in the 20th minute when a glancing header from Troy Hearfield from a Bertos corner was easily snaffled by the Mariners- custodian.

As the first half progressed the momentum shifted and the Phoenix were forced to absorb dominance exerted by the Mariners in territory and possession. Phoenix goalkeeper Glen Moss was pressed into action in the 25th minute when he deflected an attempted close-range lob from Adrian Caceres away to safety.

Home nerves began to fray early in the second half when the Phoenix were forced to scramble in their goalmouth after constant Mariners pressure. On the hour Moss saved superbly with his feet to deflect a thunderous centre field drive from Mile Jedinak.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert introduced Brazilian playmaker Daniel for Troy Hearfield in the 66th minute as the home side looked to break the stranglehold applied by the Mariners. Jeremy Christie came on for an impressive Michael Ferrante with 15 minutes remaining to provide fresh legs in the midfield.

The Phoenix narrowly missed extending their lead in the 78th minute when Smeltz let fly with a 20m strike that beat Vukovic but also his right-hand post after a fluent buildup.

Phoenix survived a late scare when Sasho Petrovski headed just high from a corner with five minutes remaining to ensure the three valuable - and vital - competition points were banked.

And in terms of confidence they will head to Brisbane to take on the Queensland Roar with the knowledge a playoffs spot is theirs for the taking as the regular season moves into the final five rounds.

Wellington Phoenix 1 (Shane Smeltz 2-) Central Coast Mariners 0

HT: 1-0 Crowd: 6722 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Wellington Phoenix: 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE (2. Jeremy CHRISTIE 75-), 13. Troy HEARFIELD (11. DANIEL 65-), 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain), 25. Manny MUSCAT.

Substitutes not used: 15. Adam KWASNIK, 30. Scott HIGGINS (gk). Yellow cards: Shane Smeltz 62-, Andrew Durante 90-, Tim Brown 90+2-. Red cards: N/A

Central Coast Mariners: 2. Andre GUMPRECHT, 4. Pedj BOJIC, 5. Bradley PORTER, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 8. Dean HEFFERNAN, 10. Adrian CACERES, (9. Nik MRDJA 70-) 11. Dylan MACALLISTER, 18. Alex WILKINSON, 19. Matt SIMON (22. Sasho PETROVSKI 75-), 20. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 23. Mile JEDINAK.

Substitutes not used: 17. Matthew OSMAN, 30. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk). Yellow cards: Adrian Caceres 44-, Brad Porter 49-, Dylan Macallister 52-. Red cards: N/A