Finals football in the Phoenix’s hands

The 2021/22 Isuzu UTE A-League finals are starting to take shape with the Wellington Phoenix one of seven clubs still in the running for the top six. Nine of the remaining 10 regular season matches will determine the final make-up of the top half of the ladder and whether the Phoenix make the playoffs for the seventh time in the club’s history.

Are the Phoenix on track for a place in the finals?

Yes. The Phoenix currently occupy the sixth and final playoff berth. They are four points clear of Macarthur FC, who have been eliminated from finals contention after losing 3-0 to Newcastle Jets on Sunday. Five-time champions Sydney FC are the only team that can knock the Phoenix out of the top six. But to do that Sydney FC have to win their remaining two regular season games and hope the Nix take no more than a point from their last two.

What do the Phoenix need to do make the finals?

The Phoenix can secure a place in the top six by beating Western Sydney Wanderers at CommBank Stadium on Thursday night. The Wanderers are out of finals contention but will be smarting from their 1-0 defeat at Eden Park little over a week ago. If the match finishes in a draw or defeat the Nix will turn their attentions to the ‘Big Blue’ on Saturday night. If Sydney FC fail to beat Melbourne Victory the Phoenix will be assured of a finals berth. If the Sky Blues knock over the inform Victory they will keep their playoff hopes alive but will still require another three points in the final round-robin game in Brisbane on Tuesday night. 24 hours earlier the Nix could clinch their place in the finals at Sydney’s expense by beating Melbourne City at AAMI Park. A draw will be enough for the Phoenix to advance to the playoffs if they drew against Western Sydney on Thursday.

Can a finals game be played in Wellington?

The third and fourth place teams at the end of the regular season will host elimination finals in week one of the playoffs. Third place is out of the Phoenix’s reach, but fourth isn’t. The Nix are four points behind Adelaide United, who only have one match to play. If the Phoenix win their remaining matches and Adelaide are unable to beat Brisbane Roar on Sunday the Nix could finish fourth and host an elimination final. The Central Coast Mariners are also in the running for fourth place. The Mariners could pinch the hosting rights for an elimination final if they also win their remaining matches. The Phoenix will be guaranteed a home playoff in week two of the finals if they win their elimination final as the semi-finals are played over two legs.

Who could the Phoenix play for a place in the home and away semi-finals?

As it currently stands the Phoenix would visit Western United in week one of the finals. However, as explained above, the Nix can finish anywhere from fourth to seventh over the final week of the season. Western United are assured of a top three finish, but they are still in the running along with Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory for the Premier’s Plate. The top two finishers are rewarded with a place in the semi-finals so all three Victorian clubs have plenty to play for over the final week of the season.

What are the games to watch over the final week of the regular season?

Other than the Phoenix’s matches against Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne City the Central Coast Mariners’ remaining games are also significant. The Mariners sit level on points with the Nix and the outcome of their matches will have a say in where Wellington finish. They visit Brisbane Roar on Tuesday night before hosting neighbouring Newcastle on Saturday. We could name another half a dozen ‘must-watch’ matches as other than Sunday’s game between Macarthur FC and Western Sydney Wanderers the rest have playoff implications.

What are the players saying?

Versatile defender Sam Sutton spoke to media on Monday via zoom.

“We’re all quite hopeful that we’re going to make that top six,” Sutton said. “It’s in our hands. We’ve just got to get a win in the next game or the game after that.

“We never want to rely on other teams and other results to go our way. The important thing is we just do what we can and control the controllables and that’s the games against Western Sydney and Melbourne City so we’ve got to focus on that.

“It’ll be good to get a win and have that security.”