Melbourne Victory showed their title-winning pedigree to kick off the A-League finals, progressing to the last four with a 3-1 dismissal of Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park.
Georg Niedermeier, Kosta Barbarouses and Ola Toivonen scored the goals while Keisuke Honda and Raul Baena marshalled the midfield against a physical Phoenix outfit, who ended with 10 men.
Substitute Sarpreet Singh curled a delightful ball for golden boot winner Roy Krishna to give Wellington hope at 2-1, but Toivonen's superb dinked finish killed the contest with 20 minutes remaining. The Swede was unplayable at times and might have added to his tally but for selfless passes when shooting was a better option.
Wellington racked up seven yellow cards to Victory's none, and had Michal Kopczynski dismissed in injury time.
"There wasn't much love lost out there. It was a battle," Victory coach Kevin Muscat said. "We kept our discipline and kept our heads in key moments ... it was a really strong performance."
The strongest performance came from Toivonen. The Swede was unplayable at times and might have added to his tally but for selfless passes when shooting was a better option.
The win sets up a tasty rematch of last year's semi-final with Sydney FC, won 3-2 by Muscat's side en route to their fourth championship. Both Victory and the Sky Blues will head to South Korea for midweek Champions League matches before convening at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Sunday.
Underdogs Wellington, rank outsiders in their first final in four years, took it up to Victory in the opening half hour. They had the first five shots of the contest; none closer to a breakthrough than Krishna's effort in the opening minute that had recalled gloveman Lawrence Thomas at full stretch.
As Victory began to play their way in, the hard-as-nails Nix responded with tough treatment. Toivonen was floored twice by blows to the head, then brought down by David Williams' late sliding tackle. From the resulting set piece, Victory took the lead.
Marquee man Honda stepped up and lobbed the ball over the Phoenix defence, allowing Niedermeier to ghost past Andrew Durante, arch his back and nod past Filip Kurto.
Within two minutes of the restart, Barbarouses should have tapped in to make it 2-0 but the Kiwi forward sliced Toivonen's cross wide of the far post. Shortly after, the pair combined again and made no mistake.
Mandi's awful backpass allowed Toivonen to play in Barbarouses, who placed his shot calmly under the onrushing Kurto. The Spanish midfielder was hooked shortly after, with Mark Rudan switching systems and placing Krishna as the sole frontman. Singh found the Fijian alone in the box on 64 minutes and he poked an effort past Thomas. Victory responded maturely.
Baena won a key midfield battle and Victory raced the ball downfield, allowing Toivonen to chip over Kurto from an acute angle.
The dominant Swede was then elbowed by Kopczynski, earning the Pole a second yellow. "I thought we performed admirably," Rudan said. "Three mistakes cost us, simple as that ... Victory are a good side and they'll punish you for their mistakes."