A-League Season Review: Wellington Phoenix

Starting with the wooden spooners, From The Stands reviews the performances of each club throughout the 2013-14 A-League season.

The Mastermind

Ernie Merrick arrived at the Phoenix with much fanfare; many of the club’s supporters had become tired of Ricki Herbert’s one dimensional play. The appointment of such an experienced A-League championship winning coach seemed exactly what the Nix needed to lift them to their potential.

Merrick promised fans a more exciting brand of football that would result in more attacking chances and bring more spectators back to the stands. He warned fans that it may take time to be patient as it would take time to implement. That patience was tested in the first part of the season when the Nix went through the first ten rounds without a win.

The former Melbourne Victory coach has already made his stamp on the club with the signing of multiple players including some young guns from the domestic scene. His commitment to the club for next season can already be seen with his decision to release some players just days following the final round.

Best player: Albert Riera

The 30 year old Spanish midfielder was spotted by Merrick during a pre-season match with domestic side Auckland City. He made is debut off the bench in the opening match of the season and was an immediate hit with the fans for his creative flair and outstanding hair. There were even “Viva La Rieralution” t-shirts created in the man’s honour.

Disaster struck for Riera – and the Nix for that matter – when he suffered a groin tear at training in February ruling him out for the remainder of the season. He did however sign on with the Nix for another year.

Best and worst performance

Best – Playing away from home has never been a strength of the Wellington club. So when the Nix managed to destroy last season’s champions Central Coast 4-1 in round 20, it was regarded as one of the clubs greatest achievements. Down 1-0 at half-time, many would have thought that the Mariners would push on and claim the three points. However goals to Cunnigham, Hernandez, Brockie and Huysegems in the second half pushed the Nix into the top six.

Worst – A 5-0 thumping at home to this season’s wooden spooners Melbourne Heart was easily the low point of the season for the Nix. Entering the match having only lost one of their last eight matches, the Nix were expected to easily claim all three points at home. A hat-trick to David Williams silenced the crowd before further embarrassment was added when a Wielaert shot rebounded off the crossbar onto the back of Glen Moss and into the net.

Key departures

This season’s leading goalscorer Stein Huysegems was released promptly at the end of the season. The former Belgium international was after a two-year contract while Merrick was only prepared to offer him one. The tall striker will be missed at the club, not only for his goals but also the way he interacted with the supporters and general professionalism he brought to the Nix.

What next?

Merrick has already made plans for next season with the signing of Sunderland’s reserve team captain Spaniard Alejandro Gorrin. With more signings expected over the off-season, Merrick will have the opportunity to continue to grow his team at the Phoenix and build upon the patchy success of his first season in charge.

Final verdict

With a new coach and a host of new players, this was always going to be a rebuilding year for the Wellington Phoenix. While some solid results placed the team in the top six for a short time, the slow start to the season would ultimately prove too much to overcome. The introduction of local youth players into the first team hinted at positive signs for the future and avoiding picking up the wooden spoon for the second consecutive season came as a small consolation.

At a glance

Results: Wins 7, Losses 13, Draws 7.

Top goal scorer: Stein Huysegems (10)
Most assists: Carlos Hernandez (8)

Most bookings: Manny Muscat (9)

How will the match finish?
About Cam Gordon (77 Articles)
Cam Gordon is a New Zealand based educator with a degree in sports studies. A passionate Wellington Phoenix supporter who still plays competitive football, captaining Parklands United in the Canterbury senior men's grades.
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