The Wellington Phoenix will feature in their eighth season in the A-League since their establishment in 2007.
After two poor finishes in the last two years Ernie Merrick’s men will be looking for their highest finish since making the preliminary final in 2009-10. The Scottish manager has filled the void left by Carlos Hernandez and leading goal scorer Stein Huysegems by signing Mike McGlinchey and Nathan Burns both of whom have had previous success on these shores.
Last Season: 9th
Ins: Roly Bonevacia (Roda JC), Alejandro Gorrin (Sunderland), Nathan Burns (Incheon United), Michael McGlinchey (Central Coast Mariners), Tom Doyle (Team Wellington)
Outs: Carlos Hernandez (C.S. Cartagines), Leo Bertos (East Bengal), Stein Huysegems and Luke Adams (released)
Strengths: The New Zealand side are truckloaded with quality players and finishers up front which should make them one of the deadliest teams in the competition. However, their inconcistency and lack of access and creativity hampered that in 2013-14. Kenny Cunningham, Jeremy Brockie and Tyler Boyd can expect plenty of service from new signings Burns, McGlinchey and Spaniard Alex Rodriguez.
Weaknesses: Other than the intimidating partnership of Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund, the Nix are scrapped for defenders with only a handful of wing backs and makeshift central defenders which could lead to trouble if one of the latter gets injured. Keeper Glen Moss is a tricky customer to beat and will have to produce his best form this season.
Key Player: It is sink or swim time for Jeremy Brockie this season. 36 goals in 106 appeareances for four different clubs is not the best return. While his name features prominently in goals of the year competitions his talents as a striker have been questioned since debuting for the defunct New Zealand Knights in 2005. With strength, speed and skill the 27-year-old has all the facets of a great striker and he will need to start performing consistently to fulfill his potential. Having the service that McGlinchey and Burns will provide will be beneficial for him
Manager: Now in his second season, the league’s most successful manager Ernie Merrick is looking to use his experience and old tactics to bring the same success he had with Melbourne Victory in the competitions early seasons across the Tasman. The only coach remaining from the A-League’s first season will be under pressure to get Wellington as far away from the bottom of the ladder as he can. Being 61 years old, time is running out for Merrick to taste final success. Is this the team to give him his fifth A-League honour?
Prediction: They struggle away from home and at times at Westpac Stadium. The Nix will have to fix this if they are to be a competitive unit this season. Expect them to be languishing at the bottom of the table. – Chris Matthews-Darby
Top photo from Dean Pemberton’s Flickr photostream