Clock is ticking, time the Phoenix nailed it

16:00, Sep 29 2012
Ricki Herbert
THIS IS THE SEASON: Ricki Herbert has a strong, experienced core of seasoned pros. With the return of All White Glen Moss, the Phoenix have, alongside Mark Paston, two of the league's best goalkeepers.

It's now or never for the Wellington Phoenix. The stars are aligned as well as they will be for the foreseeable future, so if the Nix are to mount a serious challenge for the A-League title, this season's the season.

They have a strong, experienced core of seasoned pros. With the return of All White Glen Moss, they have, alongside Mark Paston, two of the league's best goalkeepers.

Another All White, Michael Boxall, joins from Vancouver Whitecaps to add more depth to a solid defence.

And Ricki Herbert's side appear to have addressed their chronic shortage of goals with the aquisitioin of Jeremy Brockie, Benjamin Totori and Belgian Stein Huysegems.

Brockie is an established A-League player who will chip in with his share of goals, particularly if his pre-season form is anything to go by.

Totori has been an excitement machine in the New Zealand Football championship, but it remains to be seen whether his harem scarem style will be as effective in the more structured A-League.

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It's Huysegems who's really got the Phoenix fans wondering if this is their year.

The 15-cap international has enjoyed a long career in the top flights of Holland and Belgium and, most impressively, played for his country as recently as 2009.

Since then, though, his career has gone in fits and starts, and it's hoped there's plenty of life left in his 30-year-old legs.

If there is, the forward line, that barring injury will include talisman Paul Ifill, should do enough damage to lift the team high up the table.

That, in theory, leaves the team only lacking in one area. The Phoenix have never had a creative midfielder with the vision and range of passing to open up defences on a regular basis, but they are at least improved if Manny Muscat is restored to the centre of the park, where he has excelled in the past.

He and Vince Lia can form a combative, energetic duo that, particularly through Muscat, can contribute eight or 10 goals.

So season 2012-13 is surely do or die for the Phoenix. For the many over-30s in the team - many of them key to the team's success - the clock is ticking.

When Ifill, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos, Tony Lochhead and Paston are gone, the bulldozers come in to do some major rebuilding.

Westpac Stadium is a valuable weapon for the Nix.

Their record at the Cake Tin is of title-winning standard, so it surprises that a team so good at home, and with all the experience at their disposal, come back empty-handed so often from games across the Tasman.

That, more than goals or tactics or personnel, is the reason they've never finished in the top three.

On paper, the Phoenix have their strongest team ever.

No-one doubts the players' desire, commitment or professionalism. If they can find the key that unlocks the door to success on the road, they'll not only make their usual trip into the playoffs, but they could be around on the day the medals are handed out.

Billy Harris is a former All White.

Sunday Star Times