Hay: Wellington Phoenix taking shape nicely

DANNY HAY
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012

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OPINION: I'VE got to say, I'm loving the A-League at the minute. Not only have the Phoenix started brightly but there has been plenty of entertainment value in the majority of games this season.

Del Piero hasn't disappointed, nor has the other big name in the league, Emile Heskey. While neither has exactly been unstoppable, they've shown their quality when it's counted, netting a couple of times each to boot.

The Phoenix, regardless of the result overnight against Adelaide, have shown more than enough to suggest that their pre-season tag as one of the teams to watch was justified. The settled nature of the squad has been a major plus, particularly compared to many other clubs across the league.

Defensively they have looked solid, and history tells us that championship sides are built on being frugal in this area. It's been business as usual for the dependable Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund centrally. Leo Bertos has been a revelation for me at right back and it appears he's thriving on not needing to create opportunities, but rather just do a job and enjoy his football.

The only question mark I have is over whether Tony Lochhead has the defensive awareness and positioning to be a player that Ricki Herbert can really rely on in the season-defining games.

In an attacking sense, Belgian international Stein Huysegems has more than proved his worth as have other new signings Jeremy Brockie and talented youngsters Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd.

Add to that Mr Reliable, Manny Muscat and his deputy Alex Smith dominating the centre of the park and the Phoenix comfortably have a group of players that should be challenging for honours this season.

That's why it was disappointing to see Herbert try to con us that this is a "transition" season for the club. As my fellow Fairfax colleague Fred Woodcock rightly pointed out, this is anything but the case.

There should be zero room for excuses - the Phoenix have got their proverbial together off-field and as I've intimated, on-field they are stronger than they've ever been.

The only thing that I think has the potential to disrupt their aspirations, however minimal, is this nonsense around the A-League playing through international windows.

The announcement that the All Whites are set to play against China in Shanghai on November 14 is fantastic news for the national team, but not so great for the Phoenix.

While the All Whites will get invaluable match practice against quality opposition, the fixture is squeezed between two vital games for the Phoenix.

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Outside of the fact that the Phoenix's preparation will be seriously hindered for their away game in Newcastle on the 18th with coach and numerous players missing, there is also the fatigue factor to consider for those players who will have travelled and played with the All Whites.

Hopefully a poor performance in Newcastle won't cost them a top two finish and the massive advantage that comes with it - an easier route to reaching the grand final.

Danny Hay is a former All White

- Sunday News

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