While much of the talk centred around an epic Sydney Derby on Saturday night in Sydney, Wellington Phoenix flew under the radar earlier in the day with an historic victory up freeway in Gosford.
On season’s eve, Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick bemoaned an indifference towards his boys after the Hyundai A-League launch in Sydney, telling media in New Zealand there was a general “apathy” towards his club in Australia.
“At the A-League launch, the interesting thing is that the Wellington Phoenix are well liked by everyone but nobody really cares about us,” he told reporters.
“It’s almost like: ‘They’re a nice bunch of blokes, not a bad team … ‘ They don’t hate us, they don’t think we’re a fantastic team, it’s just apathy. Andrew Durante and I said: ‘We’ve got to change this perception and the only way we can do it is on the field and it’s time that we made a statement.”
Well, they have made a statement.
On Saturday, the Kiwi club won their first away game of the season for the first time in club history. Importantly, it was new signings Michael McGlinchey and Nathan Burns who started and finished an excellent second goal that got them the historic 2-1 win over Central Coast.
To come back from an own goal – by from former Nike Chance starlet Tom Doyle – showed they’ve got some ticker. And in the new signings and imports, Merrick looks to have got it right.
“We’ve had a great pre-season of 18 weeks of torture training,” Merrick told me with smile. “Our owners even brought over two EPL sides to play us in pre-season just to make sure we were ready.
“And our new signings, well I never thought I’d get the quality I’ve got. We’ve brought in two visa spots for players who are 20 and 21 in [Roly] Bonevacia and [Alex] Rodriguez.
“Add McGlinchey and Burns and we feel we’ve signed exceptionally well with good quality and experience across the ground.”
Merrick’s comments about recruitment echo a trend across the Hyundai A-League, with round 2 a good example.
Irish import Andy Keogh was the goal hero in Perth over Roar, whose new man Mensur Kurtishi slid home his first Hyundai A-League goal of the season in the reigning champions’ 3-2 loss.
Adelaide’s silky midfielder Pablo Sanchez looked the goods as did Victory’s dominating defender Matthieu Delpierre at Adelaide Oval.
And of course David Villa was the difference for City. Again.
“I’ve watched the A-League grow since 2005 and it’s now exceptional. It’s growing at enormous rates and recognised worldwide as a very good league, indicated by the young players coming over and the older ones like David Villa,” added Merrick.
That perception will be enhanced this Saturday night when a huge Australian audience (and plenty around the world) focus their attention on the potentially sold-out blockbuster Melbourne Derby at Etihad, starring Villa, Berisha and Co.
No doubt it’ll dominate headlines and on Twitter on Saturday night and into Sunday.
Meanwhile, you sense Merrick might just be happy flying under the radar with his recharged Phoenix, who’ll look to make it two wins on the spin against the Jets on Sunday afternoon in Wellington.