Striker staying focused despite Phoenix revival
For Stein Huysegems, belting out the Wellington Phoenix team song after his double sealed an unexpected A-League victory at the Western Sydney Wanderers, was the ideal response to drown out his detractors.
The previous time Huysegems had played in Sydney the Belgian striker slunk out of North Sydney Oval after his glaring misses contributed to a 1-0 loss to the Central Coast Mariners, but there was no hope of maintaining a low profile.
Huysegems copped the majority of the flak following another promising, yet unfulfilling, Phoenix performance on December 19 as the fan forums turned on the former 15-cap international.
Since then the doubters have been gradually silenced as Huysegems provided the decisive goals against Sydney FC, Melbourne Heart and, on New Year's Day, the Wanderers, after setting up Tyler Boyd's equaliser.
The Phoenix are becoming increasingly familiar with their victory chorus - they seek a club record-equalling fourth win on the trot when hosting the Mariners on Sunday week - but it will never become repetitive for Huysegems.
His brace inside six minutes at Parramatta Stadium underscored a personal and collective revival as the Phoenix and their most experienced striker continued to distance themselves from a 10-match winless streak.
The 31-year-old was shoulder to shoulder and in tune with Jeremy Brockie inside the away dressing room on Wednesday night - and then, in more measured terms, admitted his confidence was sky high.
"You put a goal in the net and you get a lot of confidence. It's all about confidence as a striker," he said, crediting coach Ernie Merrick for keeping faith in him.
"It's not always easy for a striker. You have to keep working and keep your head up."
Huysegems had a fruitful pre-season and scored in round one against Brisbane but then had no cause for personal celebration until the round nine loss at Perth Glory.
A penalty miss against the Mariners and a squandered late chance to atone put him back in the doldrums, but now he sits second on the goal-scorers' tally on six, one behind the Melbourne Victory's James Troisi.
"I have to thank Ernie, he always kept playing me," Huysegems said. "It was an important thing for me that he was really positive when I wasn't scoring."
The wider reaction was not as meaningful for a player who has started all 13 games in 2013-14.
"I know one week you're the hero and the next week you're nothing any more. I also know I'm not Maradona but I can score a goal, I can make connection and I can put somebody else before the goal."
Assistant coach Chris Greenacre, who played up front for the Phoenix between 2009 and 2012, experienced his share of goal droughts throughout his career, so naturally he empathised with the Belgian.
"Since he came to the club he's been an absolute diamond to deal with. His attitude, his application to his work is fantastic," Greenacre said.
Meanwhile, unfortunately for the Phoenix, right back Louis Fenton is likely to miss the Mariners game after aggravating a troublesome right shoulder injury late in the first half against the Wanderers.
He was to undergo scans when the team returned to Wellington yesterday but was obviously in distress after he landed on the joint.
On a potentially positive note, Merrick felt Carlos Hernandez will be back inside a supposed five-week lay-off with a wrist injury.
The Costa Rican was scheduled for surgery on Wednesday but the procedure was delayed pending further consultation.
"He will be back sooner than what is expected," said Merrick, on the basis of his four-year association with his midfield playmaker at Melbourne Victory.