Preview: Wellington Phoenix
A hard team to predict, a harder team to play against. Ricki Herbert has made the last three finals campaigns, and I can’t see him missing out on a fourth. The Phoenix has made the trip to Wellington one of the most daunting in the league, and has learned to grab points away from home. The Phoenix are one of those teams that just frustrate you with their uncanny knack to score at any time, no matter what the situation.
Sure, they have lost some experience in the midfield, but Herbert has covered his losses well in the off-season. This prediction could go horribly wrong, but I just can’t write off any team managed by the tactically astute Herbert.
PREDICTION: 4th. The team from across the ditch will once again frustrate teams along their travels. Wellington has become a fortress for the home team, and Phoenix should reach the playoffs on this alone.
BEST FINISH: 3rd in 2009/10.
THE SIGNING: Jeremy Brockie had a great year with Newcastle last season will be looking to build on his reputation. Brockie should provide Paul Ifill with a perfect strike partner, as Wellington look to build on their solid squad.
THE LOSS: The loss of Tim Brown will hurt the Phoenix more than most think. The hard working midfielder scored some crucial goals last season and is a big loss to Ricki Herbert’s team.
THE STAR: Once again Paul Ifill holds the key for Wellington. Over the last few years, Ifill has showed Wellington and the rest of the league his technical ability is amongst the best around and he isn’t losing any of his touch with age.
THE X FACTOR: Stein Huysegems could be just that – a hidden gem. The Belgian international hasn’t has the best run of late, but a sea change to windy Wellington could be just what the doctor ordered. With big clubs on his football resume, Stein will be under early pressure to perform in front of his new home crowd.
OFF THE PITCH: Football in New Zealand has made some major steps over the last few years, but over the off season the national team’s shock losses to tiny Oceania nations could affect Phoenix attendances. Let’s hope the Phoenix crowds get behind the team in their droves.
GOLDEN BOOT: Ifill will once again win this, but could face a challenge from new signing Jeremy Brockie. The loss of Tim Brown and Chris Greenacre leaves plenty of goals that the Phoenix to make up for.
THE MATCH: Without a true rivalry, all Wellington’s home matches are important. The home games before and after Christmas provides the team with an opportunity to collect six important points. Central Coast and Melbourne Heart will have to be on their game to make sure this doesn’t happen.
THE START: A mixed start where Wellington could be the first club to see Alessandro Del Piero in action when they tackle Sydney. Following that, they have an away game to Melbourne to take on the Heart, and then back to New Zealand to play Brisbane. A road trip to Adelaide finishes a tough first month for Wellington.