The Wellington Phoenix are in fifth place after one third of the A-League - with nine of their 27 games played. Sam Worthington identifies five things we have learnt in the season thus far.
1 Jeremy Brockie can score a goal
The jury was out after going goal-less in the first four rounds, but the All White now sits second in the golden boot race with six goals from the last five games. Brockie is a streaky goalscorer and until now had struggled to find a home - both positionally and at a club. Still only 25, Brockie's best years are in front of him as a Phoenix striker, and his combinations with Stein Huysegems and Paul Ifill should only get better. The only knock on him is that for every spectacular goal he scores, he misses an easy one. Still, the affable Nelsonian has been a smart buy and looks set to be the face of the Phoenix for years to come.
2 A leopard doesn't change his spots
The Phoenix started the season with an attacking 4-1-3-2 formation, as Ifill, Louis Fenton and Alex Smith pushed up in support of Brockie and Huysegems. Things started well enough, but coach Ricki Herbert abandoned ship after copping seven goals in three straight losses. Vince Lia has joined Manny Muscat and Smith in midfield with immediate effect as the Phoenix have picked up seven points in the last three matches with just one goal against. It's hard to argue against those results, but it's also difficult to see that set-up setting the league alight unless Ifill returns to his brilliant best.
3 The youth movement might be slightly exaggerated
The Phoenix deserve credit for establishing their school of excellence and promoting Kiwi youth ahead of a big-name marquee. Tawa teenager Fenton made a dream start to his pro career with a superb goal on debut to overshadow Alessandro Del Piero. But the return to fitness of Huysegems has squeezed Fenton out of the XI and, barring injury, it is hard to see him getting back in. Tyler Boyd comes off the bench each week but is yet to score a goal, while Cameron Lindsay continues to train and not play. The Scott Basalaj situation (he is unable to play for the Phoenix because of red tape) has highlighted serious issues with the Team Wellington relationship that are being addressed.
4 Central Coast and Melbourne Victory are the teams to beat
Year after year, the unfashionable Mariners are tipped to slide down the ladder, and year after year they prove everyone wrong. The Phoenix are trying to emulate the Central Coast model, where Graham Arnold develops his own stars (this year it is Tom Rogic) rather than buying them. And Ange Postecoglou hasn't taken long to get the Victory firing. All White Marco Rojas has been the player of the season so far and his latest goal, a perfectly placed lob of Danny Vukovic, was a gem. A move to Europe seems a matter of when, not if. As for the Phoenix? It's early days but they look finals-bound for the fourth year in a row.
5 Leo Bertos has the job at right back
There were plenty of doubters when Herbert decided to plug the troublesome right back spot by converting Bertos. But it has turned out to be a savvy move which should prolong Bertos' career and give Herbert another option for the All Whites as well. Bertos was losing his attacking edge playing as a winger. The question marks surrounded his tackling abilities and defensive decision making but, with Ben Sigmund beside him to bark out the orders, he has largely made a good fist of the switch.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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