The A-League draw always seems to do some weird things for the Wellington Phoenix and at the moment they’re embarking upon the gentle first steps of a 50-day stretch between games at Westpac Stadium… in as much as a trip to Perth can be considered the ‘gentle first steps’ of anything. It’s nothing rigged, this isn’t a conspiracy. The Nix have played two more home games than away games as it stands so things were always going to level out eventually and there are a couple homers in the middle of there… they just aren’t in Wellington.
In mid-Feb they play at Eden Park in Auckland against Melbourne Victory. Should be a good crowd there for that one and they’ll almost all be there to rep the Welly Nix. Including more than a few Roy Krishna stans. The other home game is against Sydney FC and it’s in Campbelltown. Not really digging the logic there, I realise that it’s a financial decision but you’re literally playing a home game in the city of the opposition. You’re forfeiting home ground advantage for money. Gotta pay the bills one way or another (support The Niche Cache on Patreon!!!) but I’m not so cool with this one. I guess it didn’t seem like as much of a sacrifice back when it was decided upon, before the Wellington Phoenix started looking like a competitive team for the first time in three years and all that.
And since they currently are a competitive team all of a sudden… s’pose you could argue that 50 days away from Wellington isn’t the daunting prospect it once was. For one thing you don’t go on a nine-game unbeaten streak if you can’t get results away from home. There’s even a case to make that the Nix are superior when they’re away, could certainly argue that at least a couple of their best performances so far have been in away games, including the best one overall which was the last time they played Sydney FC over on their own turf. About 85 minutes of their last game away to Melbourne Victory was superb as well. The thrilling late win in Western Sydney too. The unbeaten streak was ended at home, after all.
The home/away splits don’t quite do that justice. Five wins at home and only two wins away, it’s the home stuff which has supplied the points which have gotten the Nix entrenched in that top six. However it’s the away jazz which has proven this team to be a legit force and has earned the respect of their opponents over the ditch.
The old saying goes you win the home ones and draw the away ones. That’s been the plan for Mark Rudan by the looks of it, only losing once away from home and finding a way to get at least a point in on their past five travels. Five away games unbeaten. Four draws out of seven overall. Not bad from a team that lost its last six away games the previous season.
In the A-League, the Wellington Phoenix have a unique situation where their home games (except for the one in a few weeks) are played in a different country to their away ones and, let’s be honest, the Aussie footy pundits aren’t paying as much attention to the games over here as they do the others. That’s fine, it’s balanced out by us paying way too much attention to those ones compared to the others. And ultimately it’s fair because a legit team is one which competes both home and away. The Nix have had trouble turning those performances into wins, with a few scrappy 0-0 draws and some late goals conceded, but no team is coming away from hosting the Wellington Phoenix these days feeling like they didn’t just slog their way through the trenches for ninety minutes.
Welly Nix Away Records Over The Years…
Away form has almost always been the indicator for the Phoenix. Take a peek at their all-time away stats, filtered by season. You’ll not be shocked to find that they made the semis in 2014-15 when Ernie Merrick guided the lads to their best ever campaign in terms of points gained – with 42 points overall and 22 of them coming away from home, and that was with one more home games than away game. It was losing three late home games that cost them a spot in the top three and it was a home elimination defeat to Melbourne City which ended their season.
Similarly, taking 15 points from 13 away games in 2011-12 got them into the semis too. They didn’t make the playoffs when getting 14 away points in 2013-14, though that was that real wonky season when they went 10 games without a win to start things, then won seven of their next ten, then didn’t win in any of the final seven games. Ernie Merrick at his best and worst there. They won more away games than home games that season (14 points for each, tbf) but with such extreme swings in form it didn’t seem to matter where they played. However give it some decency in 2009-10 and 14 points away from home was coupled with 26 points at home and they had their first ever playoffs appearance.
2010-11 was the one funky one, where in terms of points per game they had their second-worst ever season away from home. 11 defeats from 15 games – seven of those defeats were wins to nil. But in a 30-game season Ricki Herbert’s fellas took 22 points from a possible 24 in their final eight homers to push on into the playoffs again.
This season they’ve already doubled their away points tally from last time. Never have they been worse on the travel than in the uninspiring days of Darije Kalezic and in his aftermath. Guts to be the Newcastle Jets, they may have made the grand final last time but they were also the only team to lose to the Welly Nix at home - 3-2 with Ljucic, Mullen and Krishna scoring the goals against Ernie Merrick’s Jets. By the way, they lost their next two away games 4-0 after that. Take those three goals out of it and they only scored six in their other 13 away trips… bloody hell.
Yet Mark Rudan’s no excuses mentality seems to have brought almost immediate results. There were some roadbumps along the way, the FFA Cup game and that spell of early stinkers after beating the Jets at home in week one. A non-threatening 0-0 vs Brisbane Roar and a limp 2-0 defeat to Western Sydney were the first two away games. Since then it’s been superb. And it makes sense, right? Mark Rudan’s got this team playing with a chip on their shoulder and they’re never more up for it when they feel like they’re the scrappy underdogs. Rudes is sweet as with being underestimated. His players seem to thrive on it.
At home there’s more expectation and while they’ve gotten victories, only really two of them were comprehensive – the 4-1 win over the Roar and the 2-0 win over Central Coast (during their most Central Coastiest of times). The next time they hosted CCM it required a second half comeback from 2-0 down (against ten men). They were dominated in the second half by Melbourne City last game only to cling on to a 1-0 win.
But having said that, Rudan’s Phoenix’s battling underdog spirit is only their second most defining characteristic. Tahi on that list is their ability to Find A Way (and I’m not talking about Reuben, either). I suspect that Sydney FC have drawn up the blueprint for defending the Nix now, sitting deep and stopping Roy Krishna from getting in behind, forcing them to play from in front of the backline. And maybe that’s why lower teams like CCM and WSW have caused issues for the Nix. Yet in the end this is how their record looks split between the teams ahead of them and the teams below them on the current ladder…
vs Top Five: 2 W | 4 D | 3 L | 10 GF | 12 GA | -2 GD | 10 PTS
vs Bottom Four: 5 W | 1 D | 1 L | 14 GF | 9 GA | +5 GD | 16 PTS
Even if it hasn’t always been pretty – and pretty is not a priority for Mark Rudan – the Phoenix are dispatching those teams that they should be beating. A 3-0 defeat at home to Western Sydney in the third game blows that out a bit but the Nix are a much better side now than then. Meanwhile as well as they seem to get up for the games against the big dogs… they aren’t actually winning many of them.
That’s not the worst though. These are the sides they will be playing if they hold on for the semis and when you get into knockout footy – much of which will occur away from home if they get on a run – then not losing becomes the priority. There’s always penalties if you need them.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves here but point being: when Ernie Merrick’s 14-15 side took 22 points away from home they won seven and lost five. They never got to test that form away from home in the playoffs but I’m suggesting here that a team which draws excessively on the road but hardly ever loses is way more prepared for a playoff run than one which goes rocks or diamonds on the road. And if the Nix can keep frustrating these top sides into points and continuing to beat the buggers below them will make sure they quality for those glamourous stages and we’ll get to test the theory out.
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