Western Sydney Wanderers are one step closer to ensuring their season doesn't end in round 27 after clinching a comfortable 4-1 win over bottom-placed Wellington Phoenix.
Defender Brendan Hamill was the unlikely hero for Western Sydney, scoring a second-half double to seal the Wanderers' first win in a month, when they last met Wellington. The 25-year-old pounced on haphazard marking to punish the Phoenix with two goals from corners that clinched the Wanderers' seventh win of the season and opened up a comfortable gap on seventh-placed Brisbane, who have a game in hand.
Veteran striker Brendon Santalab and Socceroo Chris Ikonomidis completed the rout for the hosts, who made light work of a club in a nosedive after Wellington coach Darije Kalezic abruptly departed this week. Western Sydney were more fluid and composed in possession than in last week's draw with Perth, but were allowed more space by Phoenix.
Ikonomidis maintained his form as the Wanderers' most lively attacking outlet and earned a free kick on the edge of the area when he was fouled by Liberato Cacace. The 22-year-old rattled the near post of Tando Velaphi's goal with a curling set piece but Brendan Hamill spurned a chance for the opener from the spilled rebound.
Few expected it would require something special to unlock the previously porous Phoenix defence but a sublime piece of individual skill from Mark Bridge broke the deadlock. Latching on to a clever long pass, the Wanderers captain made a mockery of Wellington's defenders, dribbling past two – one of whom was left face-first on the turf – as he slipped a pass across the goal mouth to an unmarked Brendan Santalab. With only an empty net in front of him, there was only one outcome for the veteran striker, who made it 1-0 on the back of Bridge's clever footwork.
However, that goal wasn't the prying open of the floodgates. Within two minutes, the scores were locked once more after careless defending inside the Wanderers' box allowed teenager Sarpeet Singh to react the quickest to a rebound, emphatically thumping an equaliser into the roof of the net three minutes before the break.
Against the cellar dwellers, the hosts had no difficulty creating chances. Substitute Alvaro Cejudo was gifted a free header on the six yard box to regain the lead for the Wanderers, however the Spanish marquee spurned the gilt-edge chance, missing the target with a wayward finish.
After being scorned by fullback Raul Llorente for their vulnerability in transition, the Wanderers did not adhere to his advice by remaining compact. Flying Fijina Roy Krishna capitalised on the space on offer to hone in on goal in the 56th minute. With plenty of time to aim his shot, Krishna fired for the near post with venom, but couldn't get past the big paw of Vedran Janjetovic, the Wanderers' goalkeeper sparing the blushes of his backline with a composed save to keep the scores level.
The deadlock didn't last long and of all the attacking stocks at the Wanderers, it was a central defender who restored their lead. Rising highest to meet a Cejudo corner, Hamill guided a header into the corner of the net, benefiting from the lack of marking at the far post to make it 2-1.
In the 78th minute, Hamill had his third. From yet another corner, the Wanderers centre-back was left completely unmarked deep inside the box and, latching on to a flick-on from Bridge, Hamill calmly slotted a volley into the back of the net to seal the win.
Ikonomidis etched his name on the scoresheet with a late goal after Velaphi was left stranded, allowing the Lazio-owned forward to slot into an open net.