Phoenix need to take home games on the road

NOBODY HOME: Crowds at Phoenix home games have dropped by more than half since their opening game of the season.
NOBODY HOME: Crowds at Phoenix home games have dropped by more than half since their opening game of the season.

Are the Wellington Phoenix playing great football? Certainly not. Are they getting results? Two wins and a draw in the last three matches and a move from ninth to fifth on the points table suggests they are.

At this stage of the season, substance rather than style is more important so while the frustration over the performances from a section of the fans is understandable, it won't be a game-breaker as far as the coach or players are concerned.

None of the 10 teams are capable of playing great football from start to finish but, like Central Coast right now, the Phoenix will expect to hit their straps at some point this season.

The key is how they scrap for results in the tough times and you'd have to say the way they have rebounded from the three-match losing streak last month has been meritorious if not exciting.

Sunday's 1-0 win over a toothless Western Sydney side wasn't a great advertisement for anything other than Wellington's reputation for being windy but the Phoenix did prove tough to break down and they've now conceded just one goal in the last 270 minutes - more like the Phoenix of recent seasons than the leaky ship we witnessed early last month.

What should be of much more concern to the club at this point, and we are talking owners and administrators rather than the team, is the dwindling crowds.

The current style - three defensive-minded midfielders tells the story but Ricki Herbert will argue it was necessary to right the ship - will be linked to the poor attendances but it's certainly not the sole factor, or even the major one.

After all, the 2-0 victory in the season-opener against Sydney was easily the best and most attractive 90 minutes the Phoenix have played this season yet more than 25 per cent of the 12,057 fans who witnessed that game didn't bother to attend the next match against Brisbane when they had every reason to (aside from the absence of Alessandro Del Piero).

The crowd for the Central Coast match dropped by a further 43 per cent and, for the fourth home match against West Sydney on Sunday, despite coming off an impressive win and a draw in Australia, a season-low 5405 fans ticked through the turnstiles.

It was a pitiful figure and almost half what is required for the Phoenix to reach their break-even mark of 10,000 for a home match.

The trend is not consigned to this season - the crowds have been well below par in the past two seasons despite the Phoenix building a very good home record, where they have generally played a decent brand of football. They've made the playoffs for three consecutive years.

So what is the answer? Winning and good football have historically made little difference to attendances so it would seem there is no magic bullet.

One thing the Phoenix should do is take more home matches away from Wellington. This will irk the core fans in Wellington but surely it's worth a try because the appetite for 11 or 12 matches per season in the capital doesn't seem to be there, according to the figures.

Take one game to Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch and Dunedin each season and also to a provincial centre on a rotational basis, such as a New Plymouth, Napier, Palmerston North, Nelson or Whangarei.

That would still leave eight or nine home matches in Wellington but, provided the scheduling is smart, you could almost guarantee at least 10,000 to those "away" home matches, which cannot be said of Wellington right now.

Auckland got 20,000 last year, Christchurch has also nudged that mark before and Dunedin got 15,000 to a pre-season match when the students were in town.

Sure, the team might not like it, the core fans might not like it, Wellington as a whole might not like it, but the owners have said they want to make the Phoenix a break-even business and they're they ones who have to pay the wages.