A virtuoso cameo from teenager Daniel Arzani has denied Wellington a memorable victory in a city that has proven a horror destination for the Phoenix over the years.
With Phoenix looking disciplined, organised and good value for at least a point after taking the lead, it was the second half substitute Arzani who conjured two perfect crosses for Aston Villa striker Ross McCormack to steal the headlines on Saturday night as City emerged 2-1 winners at AAMI Park.
Mindful perhaps of a result not befitting the attacking verve shown last time these two sides met in Round 3, it was a more defensive-looking Phoenix put out by coach Darije Kalezić who continued with the back five that enjoyed a clean sheet away to Mariners last match.
Dario Vidošić made his debut for new club City and was straight into the action with an accidental headclash against former teammate Scott Galloway, but the first clean chance for either side came in the sixth as Andrija Kaludjerović looked to break on the counter before shot wide under pressure from Bart Schenkeveld.
City’s attack began to find some cohesion as Lewis Italiano was forced into two sharp saves in three minutes – the first from McCormack before former Nix star Vidošić almost returned to haunt, but the big Australian shot-stopper palmed his effort away to safety.
His opposite number Dean Bouzanis then needed to react quickly in the 26th minute to deny Kaludjerović as Phoenix grew into the half and the attacking threat from City appeared to dissipate.
Matt Ridenton controlled brilliantly in the 40th minute to almost find Kaludjerović once more, but just two minutes later Phoenix got the reward their disciplined first-half showing deserved as Roy Krishna capitalised on a direct ball to clip home over an outrushing Bouzanis.
Phoenix leading 1-0 at the break to the ire of the home fans – boos ringing around AAMI Park as Kalezić’s plan to exploit the hosts in transition appeared to be working perfectly.
With 53 minutes gone however home boss Warren Joyce had seen enough, sacrificing fullback and former Nix stalwart Manny Muscat for the more attacking Arzani, but still it was Phoenix who perhaps looked more likely to win.
As the match opened up Phoenix had a run of chances to put the contest to bed.
Kaludjerović and Krishna combined brilliantly in the 56th minute as the Serbian found his strike partner with a raking cross. The Fijian appeared to have initially lost control before reeling the ball in and firing back a terrific cross – Kaludjerović rising highest heading expertly into the ground but the ball clattered back off the crossbar to the relief of the City defence.
Skipper Andrew Durante then read the play brilliantly to intercept, stepping out of defence to initiate another fast counter as Kaludjerović was again set free, before the Serbian fired another free header straight at Bouzanis after more good work from Krishna.
Nathan Burns entered the fray in the 69th minute and looked sharp with his first few involvements but from there the night was Arzani’s.
The young Iranian-Australian midfielder dancing past the defence in the 72nd minute to tee up McCormack with a tracer cross that the Scotsman gratefully tapped home for 1-1.
With 80 minutes gone it was the same combination combining again – this time with Arzani jinking down the left and fashioning an inch-perfect delivery once more.
Still, Phoenix pushed and looked to draw level, substitute Adam Parkhouse and Kaludjerović combined well to have the City defence scrambling before a double shot block in added time denied first Michael McGlinchey then Goran Paracki.
Another tough one for Phoenix fans as an out of form City escaped relieved after three straight losses.
Phoenix return to New Zealand for two huge home clashes 10 January (v Melbourne Victory) and 13 January (v Western Sydney Wanderers).