The Wellington Phoenix continue to impress as one of the form teams in the A-League. It seems scarcely believable that after ten games without a win, they-ve now won six of their last eight matches, collecting 19 of their last available 24 points to surge into playoff contention.
Even the unavailability of several players last week against Newcastle wasn-t enough to slow the recent progress. The suspensions of Kenny Cunningham and Michael Boxall were covered, as were injuries to Louis Fenton, Paul Ifill and Leo Bertos and the late withdrawal of Albert Riera. At the time of writing, the prognosis on the Spanish midfielder isn-t entirely clear, but all Phoenix fans will be hoping for a speedy return for the A-League-s best-known backpacker. In the absence of these players, youngsters Josh Brindell-South and Alex Rufer were handed A-League debuts, further building on the excellent depth which is being developed at the club under Ernie Merrick.
The winner against the Jets was another cracker to add to a string of excellent strikes by Phoenix players this season. Jason Hicks- build-up play and composed finish were a joy to watch. It-s the kind of goal he-s scored in training often in the last few months, so it was great to see that transferred onto the playing field. There-s also a great little touch from Matthew Ridenton to Carlos Hernandez earlier in the move – it-s assured, effortless and precise from a player who clearly has a big future in the game.
The excellent recent form of Tyler Boyd and Michael Boxall has seen them both called into the latest All Whites squad for next month-s one-off friendly against Japan in Tokyo. For Boyd it-ll be his first taste of international football while Boxall returns for the first time since the OFC Nations Cup in 2012. They-re joined in the All Whites fold by four other Phoenix players, one of who – Glen Moss – will wear the captain-s armband for the first time.
Today is another crucial game for the Phoenix. The top six now seems like the minimum acceptable outcome for a side that-s found its footballing mojo since Christmas. The goal now should be a top four placing to ensure at least one home playoff match in April. From there, who knows?