After months of inactivity (on the field anyway) it was almost surreal to see the Wellington Phoenix back on the grass, nearly eight months since they lost to Adelaide United in the first round of last season’s play-offs.
After months of inactivity (on the field anyway) it was almost surreal to see the Wellington Phoenix back on the grass, nearly eight months since they lost to Adelaide United in the first round of last season-s play-offs.
I don-t think anyone really knew how the Phoenix would respond to the off-field events of the past six months. If you-d offered Ricki Herbert a draw before the first match – especially with it being away from home – he-d probably have taken it. As it was, only a spectacular late equaliser prevented the Phoenix from winning the opening match of a league season for the first time ever.
Looking back, maybe a draw was a fair result. Phoenix old-boy Dylan Macallister had the ball in the net twice in the first half, only to be denied by the AR-s flag. Mark Paston also pulled off a number of excellent saves to keep the GCU strikers at bay. Having said that, there were a few half-chances for the Phoenix too.
I liked my first look at Spanish midfielder Dani Sanchez. He was keen to get on the ball, especially in the first half, and showed some nice touches. The main question-mark is how he-ll handle the physicality of the A-League, but he coped well in this game. The injury which forced him off late in the piece sounds like it-s just a bit of cramp, so fans will relish the chance to watch him up close at the Ring of Fire on Sunday.
The injuries to Vince Lia and Paul Ifill are more concerning, especially on top of the loss already of Lucas Pantelis and Mirjan Pavlovic. Physio Wayne Roberts will be working overtime to try and get one or both of Lia and Ifill fit to face Newcastle on Sunday. If he can-t, there-ll be just sixteen fit players for Ricki Herbert to choose from. Let-s hope the outlook is positive.
Sunday-s match also underlined the value of Manny Muscat to this football club. He-d be close to the first name on the team-sheet these days; it-s just a matter of where on the field he plays. Muscat is of most value in the defensive midfield role, but reaffirmed against Gold Coast he-s also totally comfortable at fullback, putting in an excellent shift (as usual) including a major contribution to the Phoenix-s goal.
I-d imagine four points from their first two games will have been a target for the Phoenix, meaning a win on Sunday is now needed to achieve that. Newcastle will be buoyant after their last gasp victory over Melbourne Heart, but the Phoenix will fancy another win at their home fortress. It-s important they gain all three points before they contemplate a tough trip to Perth and the visit of the A-League-s glamour side, the Melbourne Victory – including Harry Kewell and Marco Rojas – later in the month.