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Season Preview 2015/16: Wellington Phoenix

It’s been a steady and subdued pre-season for the Phoenix thus far. A thumping at the hands of Melbourne City in the FFA Cup aside, pre-season wins over Sydney FC and Western Sydney will no doubt buoy the largely unchanged squad as they head into the new season.

Ernie Merrick has brought in former Eredivisie player Jeffrey Sarpong and former Sydney FC striker Blake Powell in an attempt to plug the hole left by the departures of Nathan Burns and Kenny Cunningham. Elsewhere, experienced NPL NSW defender Troy Danaskos joins the squad along with young Kiwis James McGarry and Logan Rogerson.

The lack of ‘star’ power is surely the one doubt hanging over the ‘Nix as we approach the start of the 2015/16 season. Burns and Cunningham provided 17 of Wellington’s 45 goals last season, so the pressure will be on the likes of Joel Griffiths, Sarpong, Roy Krishna and Powell to chip in with a few hauls of their own.

2014/15 wash-up

At one point last season, Wellington were a real shot at taking out the Premier’s Plate. While that never came to fruition, the Phoenix still managed a credible 4th place on the table after 27 rounds. Disappointingly, a 2-0 home loss to Melbourne City in the first week of the finals brought their season to a premature end.

72015/16 predictions

Our contributors and fans were asked for their ladder predictions going into the new season, and they see a slide down the ladder in the Phoenix’s future. With leading goal scorer Nathan Burns having departed the club, respondents give the Phoenix an average ranking of 6.86 and 7th place on our adjusted ladder.

Ins & Outs

In Out
Troy Danaskos
Justin Gulley
James McGarry
Blake Powell
Logan Rogerson
Jeffrey Sarpong
Michael Boxall
Tyler Boyd
Josh Brindell-South
Nathan Burns
Kenny Cunningham
Jason Hicks

Fixtures

Split: 13 home, 14 away.
Round 1: Home vs Newcastle Jets.
Other Notes: No more temporary stands in Lower Hutt, I’m afraid. In fact, the Phoenix roadshow will only leave Westpac Stadium twice this season. In round 9, the Phoenix head to Auckland for the first A-League game at QBE Stadium (formerly North Harbour) since the demise of the New Zealand Knights in 2007. Then, in round 17, the ‘Nix host the Mariners at Christchurch’s AMI Stadium. Two home games to close out the season will no doubt have Ernie Merrick smiling (internally) — versus the Victory and Western Sydney.

Key Player

Only two players played every match for the Phoenix last season, and it’s hard to dispute that one of them was clearly the most important for the make-up of Ernie Merrick’s team. Midfielder Roly Bonevacia came to the A-League as a relative unknown, but at 23 years old, he showed every A-League fan just why Merrick was so keen to sign him in the lead-up to the 2014/15 season.

His strength on the ball, his prowess over the set piece and his ability to work out of a jam make Bonevacia one of the most important players for any club in the A-League, and the key to Phoenix’s finals chances this season.

One to watch

He may not have played an A-League game since March 2013, but 24 year old former Sydney FC striker Blake Powell is already showing he’s up to the task this time around. 3 goals in 2 pre-season appearances against A-League opposition will no doubt vindicate Merrick’s decision to give Powell a second chance in the A-League, and with Nathan Burns now a distant memory at Westpac Stadium, Powell will see significant game time this year up front for the ‘Nix.

Obscure trivia

Wellington’s top four all-time appearance leaders (Andrew Durante (182), Manny Muscat (167), Ben Sigmund (166) and Vince Lia (155)) will all take the field again for the Phoenix this season.

About the author

avatarJustin is a passionate football fan, and the Editor-in-chief of Ultimate A-League.

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