Saying Ka Kite To Dylan Fox & Reviewing The WeeNix’s Season

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When the Wellington Phoenix announced that they’d come to a mutual agreement to release defender Dylan Fox from his contract a little over a week ago, at first it appeared to be a squad thing. Sliding an injured player out of the way since he wasn’t going to be able to play again this season and his contract was almost run down anyway. Nothing drastic there and my initial inclinations were that it wouldn’t be at all crazy if he re-signed in a few months once he’d recovered.

In the meantime Gianni Stensness had already been quickly promoted to the senior squad from the reserves and he was followed soon after by Ben Waine. I’m going to talk a fair bit about the academy players in a second but first this Dylan Fox situation because rather than being a matter of letting him go so he can complete his recovery back in Aussie or something like that, it turns out there was something else in the punchbowl…

That’s Foxy right there, four days after being officially released, signing with Korean K-League 2 side FC Anyang. Second tier competition in South Korea but should still be a decent standard for Fox who hasn’t had a lot of regular football this season with the Nix. Which has been a real fall from the fringes of grace after he was named Players’ Player of the Year last campaign for his efforts at the back amidst mass chaos in those dark, dark days of yore.

Twelve months ago he looked like a real player for the future. But under Mark Rudan he’s fallen back in the pecking order behind the un-droppable Steven Taylor, a resurgent Andy Durante… and either a left-back playing centreback or a midfielder playing centre-back or possibly now a midseason recruit. I mean, I espoused a theory a few weeks back about Rudan wanting specific backups for each role in his formation but that still doesn’t explain Fox not even making the matchday squad in 12 of the 20 games prior to his injury.

For whatever reason, he simply hasn’t been sighted outside of emergencies. Two of his three starts came when Steven Taylor was unavailable and the other one came immediately after a 3-0 defeat. Those three starts were all losses to nil. Clearly Mark Rudan wasn’t handing out prizes for past impressions, everybody got a clean slate and Ryan Lowry has emerged as the preferred bench CB – with Antony Golec and Gianni Stensness further muddying those waters. All combined Dylan Fox has played 228 minutes and that’s fewer than Mitch Nichols.

And he’s injured now. So later bro, best of luck. A little heartless perhaps to cut a bloke while he’s injured but then budgets are tight and we’re all way too used to corporate enterprises dulling the humanity out of their quests for power and wealth (as if it’ll make them any less dead one day, lol).

Except that as it turns out this was Fox’s call. The injury’s not quite as season-ending as it was initially feared but with little chance to be a major factor on the paddock the rest of the way and with his chances of getting a new contract looking thinner than the line between Alex Rufer and his next yellow card… the dude just wants to play footy, man. And FC Anyang said how about it? So he said how about it to the Nix. And they said we would like to thank Dylan for his contributions and wish him all the best for his future endeavours.

Okey doke then. Bit of a strange one in how it all played out but there you go. Dylan Fox leaves having played 38 times for the Wellington Phoenix and he leaves as one of the better success stories for players signed out of the NPL in Australia, clearing out room for a potential future All White to take his spot anyway.

Time for part two. Hopefully you’ve been reading up on your Premmy Files each week to stay up to date with the academy happenings. But it’s only fair that, unique case that they are, the WeeNix get a bit if a deeper review right here.

The WeeNix polished off their Premiership season by taking swigs of their non-alcoholic beverages with a wooden spoon but they did so in style, winning their last two games to take more points in that final fortnight than they did in the sixteen games prior combined. What’s more is the 3-2 win over Hamilton Wanderers and the 3-1 win over Hawke’s Bay United were the only two times the team scored more than twice in a game all season. They lost their first ten games in a row before finally beating an equally youthful Waitakere team 2-0 and from then on their only defeats came to teams in the top four.

A season of two halves then? Not exactly. More like a season in which they made constant progression, which is just what you wanna see from them. Young players growing and developing. It’s no coincidence that they struggled early on anyway but it certainly didn’t help that there was so much tinkering with the team each week, with senior players dropping down and others departing along the way. Early days their best player was Calvin Harris but he left for uni in the States, as did influential defender Liam Moore. It’s a little surprising that fellas like Nathan Burns never showed up there to get some minutes in his boots (and perhaps a goal or two) but Oli Sail, Reuben Way, Michal Kopczynski, Dylan Fox, Libby Cacace, Ryan Lowry, Louis Fenton, Sarpreet Singh, Mitch Nichols, Antony Golec, and Justin Gulley all started at least one Premiership game along the way.

As the season went on the squad took a more consistent shape and partnerships were able to develop. Callan Elliot and Ben Waine were regulars on the wings, constantly causing trouble regardless of their opposition. They only ever missed games because of first team duty, with Waine starting 17 out of 18. Elliot didn’t actually score a goal this season which was a bummer, this was probably a consolidation year after breaking through with Tasman United. But he made his A-League debut two games back so you know he’s doing the mahi. As for Waine, who played off the bench in the FFA Cup (the only positive of that game), he’s been pretty magnificent. He scored eight goals along the way which is ridiculous for a 17 year old playing for the bottom team and would be well worth a sneaky spot on the bench for the first team at some point.

After Calvin Harris left there was a void in the frontline, which Will Ebbinge eventually pushed forward and filled. Another great talent there although he’s soon off to uni himself so this was the last we’ll see of him in the Nix academy. Same goes for Boyd Curry and Kieran Hamilton who were impressive performers in those big results at the end. Curry especially, as he and Ronan Wynne really locked down the central defence after so many changes. Curry was in the New Zealand U19 squad that went to the OFC champs last year and I had anticipated his teammate there Dino Botica would play a considerable role this season as well… but a recurring back injury ruled him out the entire way and he recently left the academy to move back to Auckland for surgery and recovery. Guts to him and fingers crossed for a speedy return to football.

Kurtis Mogg is another defender who’s earned plenty of credit. Owen Smith too (who is leaving for uni in the States come August). Gianni Stensness has already gotten a lot of words in his honour since his call-up to the senior side but don’t overlook his buddy Taci Kumsuz, signed at the same time and a member of the same U20 Australian camp before declaring his intention, like Stensness, to play for Aotearoa. Kumsuz is a creative midfielder with skill for days however having started most of the season he was coming off the bench as an impact sub by the end. Plenty worse impact subs out there, that’s for sure. Goalkeeping was handled, no pun intended, by Zac Jones except for when Oli Sail dropped down. Only one clean sheet all term but that’s sorta how it goes with a young keeper and a young defence, which tended to look really sharp right up until that one crucial mistake which they’d be punished for. Especially early on. All part of the learning curve.

And of course nobody should ignore el capitan Sam Sutton, patrolling that midfield like the leader that he is. A genuine central midfielder with a quality sense of rhythm in his passing, if there’s another player in this squad who has earned a promotion before the end of the A-League season then Sutton is probably that guy. Either him or Ronan Wynne. Might be tough for either of them from a physical standpoint but they’ve been outstanding for the WeeNix.

No game this weekend. It’s an international break and now that the All Whites are no longer a functioning international team that plays games and stuff (or does it only seem that way?) the A-League now respects international breaks so try and stay sane in the meantime.

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