Wellington Phoenix FC (The Nix)
Stadium: Westpac Stadium (Ring of Fire)
The 2014/15 A-League season shapes up as a promising one for the Wellington Phoenix who have assembled arguably their strongest ever squad. Having missed out on the playoffs for the last two seasons, finishing last and second to last, kiwi football fans are desperate to see their only A-League team make it back to the post-season.
Despite being eliminated from the FFA Cup in their fist encounter the Nix have completed a strong preseason campaign. The team looks sharp on attack although the main concern still remains their defence, which conceded more goals than any other team last season.
The Phoenix have been dealt a favourable start to the season with home matches against Perth and Newcastle during the first three rounds. Winning both of these matches will not only place them towards the top of the table but also send a message to other teams that travelling to Wellington and coming away with points will be a lot tougher than last season.
Head Coach: Ernie Merrick
Merrick arrived at the Phoenix last season taking over from long term foundation coach Ricki Herbert. He quickly established himself at the club, changing the style of play and promising fans of the club more consistency on the field. Although he couldn’t get the Nix into the playoffs last season, the general opinion of most was that it would take at least a season before Merrick would have the team at a standard to genuinely challenge the top dogs. This season will be how Merrick is judged at the Phoenix and anything other than a top six finish will be looked upon as a failure.
Ernie Merrick’s first season in charge of the Nix got off to a slow start, having to wait until round 11 to pick up their first win. The Nix then proceeded to lose only three of their next 13 games to briefly climb into the top six. Unfortunately they would round out the season with four straight losses to finish ninth on the ladder.
Michael McGlinchey – The New Zealand international proved to be a tough signing for the Phoenix who ended up in a legal dispute with Central Coast over the rights to his contract. It meant that McGlinchey had to sit out most of the clubs preseason matches although he still trained as part of the squad. Known for his creative attacking play, McGlinchey will play a key role in the upcoming season.
Alex Rodriguez – Rodriguez joins the Phoenix straight from the Sunderland reserve team and will likely play as an attacking midfielder. The 21 year old has looked good in preseason, scoring on numerous occasions including against West Ham United during the Football United Tour.
Nathan Burns (Newcastle Jets), Tom Doyle (Miramar Rangers), Roly Bonevacia (Roda JC Kerkrade).
Paul Ifill, Stein Huysegems, Carlos Hernandez, Luke Adams, Leo Bertos.
Key Player: Albert Riera
Riera was plucked from football obscurity last season by Merrick after an impressive showing during a preseason trial match. The Spanish midfielder ended up being crowned Phoenix player of the year for 2013/14, despite being injured for a sizeable chunk of the season, and capped it off with an appearance for the A-League All Stars.
A fully fit Riera will be the key link in the midfield between defence and attack and will be responsible for setting up a lot of the Phoenix attacking plays.
What’s he still doing here?
After being loaned out by the Phoenix to Oakleigh Cannons, Boxall saw more game time last season starting 18 matches. However this season with the signing of Doyle and the movement of Muscat to right back, Boxall will find it tough to make it back onto the pitch.
After two disappointing seasons the Phoenix finally look like they have all the necessary components to make it back into the playoffs. A host of signings by Merrick has almost completely changed the midfield and will give the Nix a lot more attacking options. If they can defend better than last season they should be able to sneak a top six position on the ladder come the end of the regular season.
Predicted finish: 6th
Guy Smith from Yellow Fever answered a few questions about the Wellington Phoenix season. Follow him on twitter @gsmithnz and follow @YellowFever_NZ the unofficial Wellington Phoenix and New Zealand Supporters group.
Over the last two seasons the club has conceded 100 goals (11 more than any other club) How can the club improve the defence?
Well, we’ve signed a new left back (Tom Doyle) who looks excellent and more importantly we’ve improved our midfield out of sight. Albert Riera will be crucial this season and it was no surprise last time round when his season-ending injury coincided with our form nose-dive. Pretty confident in the defensive unit this season.
A tug of war developed over the off season for Michael McGlinchey, how important will he be to the Phoenix?
Tug of war is a bit polite. More like an FFA-inspired shower of shite. Seriously, nobody comes out of this looking great. But at least we come out of it with McGlinchey. Nevermind the F3 derby, watch out for the WeeMac Grudge Match this season.
For large parts of the season Jeremy Brockie went missing last season, do you think he will return to some sort of form this season?
Sex and drugs and Brockie’s goals. Most of the Fever gets none of those three things. Hard to blame Brocks entirely for his dry spell last year, we could never put the ball on his feet. Huysegems was a better target in the air, so he got the run of it really. This year with a quality midfield driving things behind him and a full preseason (last season he was at Toronto) the excuses are thin on the ground. Hopefully God will give Brockie’s goals to us.
Any reason why the team struggled at home last season with only three wins?
The team struggled period. But one niggle last year was the number of “home” games that weren’t at home. Auckland, Napier, Christchurch. It was a travelling circus. This year we’re much more stable. Should help.
How will the team fare this season?
Written off by all Australian pundits, we will cruise into the top 6 and give the semis a nudge.
Have the Wellington fans been working out in the off season for their 80th minute ‘shirts off celebrations’
Why would we start now? Still the best strip show in Wellington by a mile though.
Two things for your readers. We love visiting fans over here. None of that RBB balaclava-wearing pseudo-ultra nonsense for us. Come and drink with us. Throw some banter around, and we’ll all have a good laugh. So if you fancy an away trip, come our way. And in the same direction, jump on our forums (yellowfever.co.nz/forum) and spark up some preseason banter. The more the merrier.Google+