Twenty two thousand six hundred and forty eight people filtered into Eden Park on Friday night in Auckland to watch the Wellington Phoenix. That’s more than the Super Rugby got the following night. More than the Nix have ever had before for a regular season game. The biggest crowd any A-League game has witnessed this season outside of Sydney or Melbourne. But let me just stop you right there and remind you that Eden Park is still a trash heap of a stadium and the sooner they stop throwing good money after bad and bowl that place to the ground, the better the sporting situation will be in Aotearoa’s most populated city. Massive props to the footballing community of AK for getting out in numbers. Just don’t mistake that for any kind of collateral praise for Eden Park, which remains a nightmare.
Anyway, the Nix were playing the Melbourne Victory and it was a game they should have won. Huge crowd, great atmosphere, a full strength starting eleven against an opposition missing a couple key starters… these are the games that the Nix need to be churning out Ws from. Instead for the third time this season they conceded a second half equaliser to draw with old Melly Vix.
I mean, it’s far from a bad result. On the weight of the game itself it was a perfectly fair result. But looking at this through a wider lens that’s one more winnable game that’s ended in a draw and when those really start adding up, sure it’s healthy to be ticking over points, but soon enough these recurring draws are going to cost the Nix a higher place on the ladder and probably a home finals game with it – imagine if this side bags fourth place and hosts a game with an even bigger crowd than this one… beautiful chaos, that would be. Except they’re letting that possibility slip away with all these draws. Seven wins, seven draws and five defeats… two late winners from those second seven and they’d be fourth on the ladder. They’ve had their chances.
The good news is that both Adelaide and Melbourne City lost this week, which actually gains the Nix a point on the top four. Only two points back now as those three teams all get ready for a hearty sprint to the finish line. The bad news is that Melbourne City lost to Newcastle Jets so Ernie’s blokes, who the Nix weren’t able to put away last week (and were left thanking Oli Sail that they didn’t lose), are now only six points back in seventh. It’s been great to see them get to this position so far, yet nothing is guaranteed with eight more games still remaining. It could just as easily go astray… it’s happened before.
The Victory game was a frantic occasion, befitting of a large crowd. Swinging like a pendulum from end to end in a way that didn’t particularly suit either team… though the sizzling talents of Roy Krishna and Kenny Athiu didn’t mind too much, each looking by far the most likely to create something tangible to go with all the excitement. Victory shaded the first half while managing to keep enough blokes behind the ball to limit the Nix (Thomas Deng had a blinder of a game) and it kind of felt like the occasion was slipping past the home side. Too many corner kicks and free kicks offering fake pressure instead of catching the Victory in disorganised situations.
Here’s to second chances and second halves then. There had been threatenings in the first forty-five, most specifically when Louis Fenton skipped down the right flank and his cut back was dragged by David Williams and then Libby Cacace passed instead of shooting and Krishna couldn’t find the space to direct it on target. Second half we started seeing a fair bit more of that kind of thing, led by Cacace himself simply streaming by buggers on his way up the wing. Man of the match right there – I know Sarpreet Singh’s got a special place in the hearts of a lot of fans but there’s a legit case that Cacace is the better player right now (not that it matters when we’ve got both).
Williams and Krishna were working also their arses off. Counter attacks were looking promising and there were no shortage of set pieces to work from either, only issue was that it was the same for both sides. Which meant it became a matter of who could take their chances, who’d break or be broken first.
It was the Victory who broke. About five minutes after a prerequisite stunner of a save from Filip Kurto, Sarpreet Singh ripped in a wicked cross from the right flank which Storm Roux made a proper balls-up of, letting the ball bounce off him for Roy Krishna to strike, first time on the volley, from about eight yards out. Old mate doesn’t miss from there, sonny.
Twelfth goal of the season for Roy, who is now tied second on the top scorers’ chart with Andy Keogh and one goal behind Adam Le Fondre. Roy hadn’t scored for four games prior and he did kinda miss a penalty late in the Jets game so he probably needed that one. So did the wonderfully well-populated Fijian portion of the crowd.
By the way, no Nix player other than Krishna or Williams has scored for the Nix since Fenton struck one in the 3-2 win over Western Sydney on the 8th of January.
Krishna nearly had a double a few minutes later after a glorious move that involved Sarpreet Singh and David Williams (thought that Singh missed Krishna on his right the first time though), but Lawrence Thomas made a smart save, the talented bastard. Could so easily have been a goal, Krishna’s face-down starfish reaction pretty much made that one clear. It proved to be kinda costly.
That’s because realistically it only felt like a matter of time until Melbourne dragged one back. Keisuke Honda had already come on to rescue things and the fella’s still got a bit of magic in the boots. I’m not exactly sure what Fenton and Krishna did wrong as Leigh Broxham won the penalty which Honda then scored to tie us back up. Krishna stepped in front of him but Broxham’s trying to run between a couple blokes with no room and it’s not like there was a clear movement to impede him. I dunno. It felt soft but it also felt like the momentum of the game was fit to burst. If it wasn’t one way it’d be another. The Phoenix always needed to score a second to win this joker. Which they didn’t. Thus they drew.
There’s a new challenge that the Nix are dealing with now. Having earned enough respect to have teams coming in wary of what they can offer we’ve seen some difficulty not so much in the style of footy that they’ve been playing but just in the end product of it. First six games of the season the Nix scored four goals, figuring things out in the early days. Then came the 3-1 blitzing of Sydney FC away and from then on the Nix scored 19 goals in eight games. Since then, beginning with the 1-0 defeat to Sydney FC, they’ve scored three in five.
Defence is much better, midfield’s playing well, it’s night and day from the early games. But teams have adjusted their approach to them. The two Sydney games are the perfect example – SFC went from a high defensive line which was swiftly exposed to having men behind the ball and utterly blunting the Nix attack. Teams have taken notice. The Nix either need to be more clinical with things or find a couple more ways to hit the back of the net… the goal they got in this game was pretty bloody fortunate, to be honest. (One thing I’d like to see is a better goal threat from set pieces, being a bit more creative about getting guys like Steven Taylor in space to attack the ball).
Mark Rudan made it obvious in his post-match comments that this team has more to offer and the time to show that is now, when things really truly begin to matter. The Nix have only won one game from their last six and have Sydney FC in Campbelltown next up. Not ideal. But this team loves having something to fight against so a bit more adversity never goes astray, which makes the next couple months an extremely enticing prospect. Strap on your seatbelt. This is what it’s all about.
Rate these Phoenix yarns? Support us on Patreon so we can afford to keep going
And whack an ad whenever you read something decent, every little thing helps
Keep cool but care