Melbourne City ends the round on top of the A-League table after coming from behind to defeat the Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park.
In front of 6,440 people, City found a way to maintain their undefeated streak and five-year unbeaten run against the Phoenix at home, despite missing star striker Jamie Maclaren.
The home side made their presence known in an aggressive display, which saw four of its players booked with several strong challenges being laid.
Both Richard Windbichler (hamstring) and Harrison Delbridge (suspension) watched on from the sidelines as Josh Brillante dropped into centre back alongside Curtis Good.
Brillante’s first test came in the tenth minute when Gary Hooper burst forward but was unable to get past Brillante who did well not to foul him as he made his tackle from behind.
City’s makeshift back-four was something the visitors sought to exploit early, with Mexican recruit Ulises Davilia playing balls over the top for Hooper and David Ball.
Moudi Najjar meanwhile replaced Jamie Maclaren up-front with fellow young-guns Lachlan Wales, Connor Metcalfe and Denis Genreau also starting for City.
City’s youth brigade had an arduous task ahead of them without their star-striker but showed no sign of early nerves as Metcalfe combined with Genreau to set up Rostyn Griffiths, whose 12th minute attempt flew over the cross bar.
But it was the Phoenix who opened the scoring in the 24th minute through Hooper.
A David Ball flick-on from a Rene Piscopo corner flew across the goal to a waiting Hooper at the back-post, who made no mistake heading his debut goal and giving the visitors a shock lead.
This had been the first time this season the Phoenix had led an opposition, though this was short-lived as City hit back with two-goals in 11 minutes to lead at the break.
The first came through Metcalfe, whose header off a Craig Noone left-footed cross drew them level in the 30th minute before right-back Scott Galloway unleashed from just outside the box to give them the lead.
The 24-year-old notching up his fifth A-League goal with his left-footed attempt, which hit the post on the way in.
Ufuk Talay looked to his substitutes at the break and replaced Hooper and Piscopo with Jaushua Sotirio and Callum McCowatt.
Tempers began to flare midway through the second half as City continued to play on the edge.
Frustration on the Phoenix bench grew as they believed Noone should have received a second booking for a late challenge in the 55th minute.
This exasperation then reached boiling point when City were controversially awarded a penalty after Genreau’s cross into the box brushed Louis Fenton’s bicep, after coming off his chest.
Despite heavy protests from the Phoenix players causing some delay – the penalty stood and Noone added a third for the home side and his first in City colours.
City took full control of the match from here, albeit the win could come at a cost with Metcalfe being replaced by Stefan Colakovski in the 78th minute due to injury.
The 19-year-old looked to the make the most of his time on the field, firing two attempts on goal – including a one-on-one with Phoenix keeper Stefan Marinovic, who was able to palm the close ranged shot away.
The Phoenix, however, went down fighting as substitute Ben Waine scored his first professional goal from inside the six yard box in the 93rd minute, adding a second for his side.
Both sides return to AAMI Park next weekend, with Wellington playing Melbourne Victory on Friday while City host the Central Coast Mariners next Sunday.
Melbourne City 3 (Metcalfe 30’, Galloway 34’, Noone (pen) 63’) defeated
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Hooper 24’, Waine 93′)
Dean Bouzanis (GK), Scott Galloway, Scott Jamieson (C), Josh Brillante, Rostyn Griffiths, Craig Noone (Ramy Najjarine 68’), Denis Genreau, Lachlan Wales, Curtis Good, Moudi Najjar (Adrian Luna 54’), Connor Metcalfe (Stefan Colakovski 78’)
Thomas Glover, Nathaniel Atkinson, Raphael Rodrigues, Kerrin Stokes,
Stefan Marinovic (GK), Luke De Vere, Matti Steinmann, Reno Piscopo (Callum McCowatt 46’), David Ball, Ulises Davila, Alex Rufer, Louis Fenton, Walter Scott, Steven Taylor (C), Gary Hooper (Jaushua Sotirio 46’)
Oliver Sail (GK), Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, Tim Payne, Ben Waine