The Phoenix are in the middle of a series of matches which-ll show us exactly how they-re travelling compared to the best sides in the A-League. Last Sunday-s draw against the defending champion Mariners has been quickly followed by this week-s clash with the always impressive Melbourne Victory, before a trip to pacesetters Brisbane.
In all sports, there are certain opposition that historically get the better of others and the Victory definitely present a strong case for being the Phoenix-s “bogey team”. Just two wins in 19 clashes across six and half seasons tells the story of an opponent which the Phoenix have found very difficult to succumb. The first of those two victories back in 2008 is still fondly remembered, particularly Shane Smeltz-s winning goal which was one of the best strikes ever seen at Westpac Stadium.
Earlier that season, Manny Muscat made his home debut against the Victory on a wet Wellington evening when Danny Allsopp and Archie Thompson gave him and the rest of the Phoenix defence a torrid time before he was eventually substituted. At the time, it seemed likely Muscat-s stay in the capital would be short-lived. Instead, he-s developed into one of the A-League-s most consistent players and last week became the second highest appearance maker of all-time for the Phoenix, overtaking Tony Lochhead. With a contract extension freshly signed, that damp August night in 2008 is now a distant memory.
As typically happens, the A-League table is tightly bunched at the midway stage of the season. Before this weekend-s round of matches, the gap between the Phoenix and the playoff spots was just five points, so with 39 points still up for grabs, participation in the post-season is still absolutely realistic. It seems highly likely the makeup and order of the top six won-t be decided until the last ball is kicked in the regular season in mid-April, so there-s still plenty to play for in the next three months.