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Hay: Wellington Phoenix have risen from ashes

DANNY HAY
Last updated 06:03 12/01/2014

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OPINION: Danny Hay says Ernie Merrick's version of the Phoenix provides renewed hope that we are finally getting it right with our A-League franchise.

What a resurgence the Phoenix have had over the last couple of weeks. At least, that's the way I've heard the team's recent form being described. I'd argue that resurgence is the wrong word to explain what has been happening with Ernie Merrick's side.

I think it is more of a rebirth, but not of late. The three consecutive wins are a continuation of what has been building since Merrick took the reins.

While statistics never provide the complete picture of a game, a quick look back at the first half of the season tells the story of a team that created a plethora of scoring opportunities through maintaining possession for a greater length of time than their opposition.

The Phoenix prior to the current version would never have dreamed of such control in games.

As Merrick himself has pointed out during this run of wins, they have played much better in other games earlier in the season and come away with none of spoils - such as the December home game against Brisbane Roar.

Put simply, they have lacked the ability to convert the chances created off the back of their possession. But that seems to have changed for the better.

Stein Huysegems' rich vein of form has helped convert what the ardent Phoenix fan has seen coming since October. To them, the mockery their side made of the previously impenetrable home form of the Western Sydney Wanderers wasn't a shock. They had been threatening to put a side to the sword, it was just a matter of who and when.

It's also important to remember that the three consecutive victories have been achieved minus the club's two big-name players. Is it a coincidence that this run has corresponded with the unavailability through injury of Carlos Hernandez and Paul Ifill?

For me, this is a sign of how far the Phoenix has progressed in a short space of time under Merrick.

The former regime relied heavily on the brilliance of one or two individuals to pull results from precarious situations. Last season Jeremy Brockie single-handedly carried that responsibility, while Ifill was the go-to man for a number of seasons prior to that.

News of Hernandez's contract renewal midweek would have come as an almighty relief in years gone by. Now, while positive as he still has plenty to offer the club, he's seen as a bonus rather than a necessity. There are players more than capable of filling the void should he not play for whatever reason, many of them young New Zealanders.

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What we are seeing is a team in the true sense of the word, adhering to a style and structure that every last player appears to not only be comfortable with, but truly believes in.

While Huysegems is the man in the spotlight at present for putting the ball in the back of the net, performances are coming from every quarter. Defensively they are organised and hard to break down, as the solitary goal conceded in the last 270 minutes of football would suggest.

Albert Riera and company in the middle of the park offer plenty, both in attack and through a willingness to do the hard graft when not in possession.

And most impressive of all is the impact that Merrick's well-timed substitutions are making. Kiwi youngster Tyler Boyd has been a revelation off the bench and could well be the difference again today when the Phoenix face off against the Central Coast Mariners, a team they haven't beaten since August 2010.

Ernie Merrick's 2013-14 Phoenix are a team that have risen from the ashes of past stagnation, and another result today will further silence any doubters who thought the results at the beginning of the campaign were a sign of the continuation of the Phoenix of old.

Danny Hay is a former All Whites captain.

- Sunday Star Times

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