We’ve had a couple days now to contemplate the events of Friday evening. The news breaking about Mark Rudan was one thing, and it’ll get plenty more words as the week progresses, but the performance in Brisbane was unacceptable regardless of whatever else was going on. That was not the team we’ve come to expect this season. That was not a team fired up for kickoff in the way they usually are, especially not for such a crucial and winnable game.
The Brisbane Roar are done and dusted for the campaign. Their starting team had three players wearing jersey numbers between 1-11, which is generally a bit of an indication that a few fringe blokes are in the mix. They had a 17 year old left back in Izaack Powell. A 20 year old winger playing right back in Daniel Leck. 18 year old Zachary Duncan on the right of midfield. Strikers Dylan Wentzel-Halls and Nick D’Agostino had a combined age of 42 years of age. Away from home on a short turnaround, sure. But the Nix are in the mix for fourth spot and the Roar are running out the kids. This was never a game that they should have lost.
So what happened then? Well, the timing of the Rudan news was unfortunate but I’m struggling to believe that was an influence on the players. Like, they were in camp on the Gold Coast all week. They were deliberately insulated and protected… plus let’s be honest it’s probably been common knowledge in the squad for a few weeks now. The word was that he told club officials of his intentions three weeks ago. Three weeks is plenty of time to come to terms with it all. It’s a timeframe that includes a rubbish effort against Adelaide last week but also an excellent one at home to Newcastle before that.
Nah, I think the extended time away from Wellington was a bigger issue. Staying in Oz over the week was probably necessary but that doesn’t make it any easier to be out of your usual routines. Consecutive away games are always tough. The Nix have only actually won three away games out of twelve this season. And the fatigue of a long season has to be affecting a small squad by now too. It already has been with injuries, to be honest.
But those aren’t excuses for what we saw on Friday night, which was a team that came out playing way too open as if they expected to be able to score by default and leaving their defence shockingly exposed in the process. The Roar wanted to be playing on the counter attack. They were ready for it. And while the Nix had more ball and were able to spend a lot of time with it in the Brisbane half, it was their hosts who looked way more dangerous every time they were able to attack at pace. A Filip Kurto stunner kept things even after a flick on from a corner kick in the seventh minute. Danger averted… yet the Nix didn’t heed the warning.
Seriously, if the Phoenix are going to play like this then they’re not winning another game this season. They played with an entitlement that goes against the whole ethos of Rudan’s Nix. The fullbacks were pressed right up high and the midfield followed, yet there was none of that dynamic energy that we see at this team’s best. Instead all they did was crowd the attacking third and leave what’s always gonna be a bloody slow defence extremely exposed. Exposed to guys like Eric Bautheac.
He scored again five minutes later and it was nothing less than the Roar deserved. On another day, the Nix might have been more clinical with their chances and scored first, which would likely have taken the steam out of a young Brisbane team. Instead they continued to blast balls way off target and get skinned on the break. David Williams won Player of the Month for March. He’s been bang average in April, unfortunately. And Roy Krishna simply had no space to work in to the point where you hardly knew he was there. Max Burgess at least kept himself involved but there wasn’t much to work with.
Just like last week there was a massively improved second half and this time it didn’t take a red card to allow for it. Bautheac did get a red one in stoppage time to cap off a very eventful night for him but it was too late to matter. Mandi was replaced at the half by Sarpreet Singh and Cillian Sheridan came on for Krishna with twenty to play. Sheridan, as is always the case with Mark Rudan, should have come on at least ten minutes earlier. With a crowded defence his strength and aerial presence was something that could’ve busted the shackles. Also would have liked to see Callan Elliot get the last ten to really run at Powell but that didn’t happen either.
Also unlike last week, the Nix got their goal nice and quick. Eight minutes into the second half Steven Taylor won an excellent header from an excellent Alex Rufer corner. 2-1 with ages still to go, sweet as, let’s do this. The Nix have had plenty of rank first halves this season which they’ve overcome with dominant second half comebacks. This could have been another of those and just in time to be a catalyst for the rest of the term. But Cillian Sheridan rocked the post instead of the net after 88 mins and about forty-five seconds later Sarpreet Singh did well to slide in Willo, who rounded the keeper and then inexplicably missed the open goal. I mean… wow.
Such a disappointing result. Such a disappointing performance. With so much on the line as well. The Nix have bounced back from some shockers so we know they’re a resilient lot. These were their first consecutive defeats since November. The worry is that the damage might have been done in terms of fourth place and if they’re having to play away to Adelaide again in the semis then we already know how that’s gonna go.
The good news is that the rest of the week unfolded pretty well perfectly. Adelaide and Melbourne City drew which keeps the Nix in fifth, level on points with MCI who they play next week at home (Sunday at 7pm) and one point behind Adelaide who play Melbourne Victory next game. The Victory have heaps left to play for – they’re two points behind Sydney FC for second which means a first round bye. Come on Kosta, do your worst.
Elsewhere Perth wrapped up the minor premiership with a 1-0 win over Newcastle, which eliminates the Jets from playoff contention and thus guaranteeing the Nix a spot in the six. Of course, that was kinda inevitable anyway so more important might be that it gives the Glory a reason to take it easy in that regular season finale against the Nix in Perth. Coz, you know, we probably need to get something from that game now.
Otherwise it might almost be better to lose to City and sink to sixth, playing them in Melbourne instead of playing Adelaide from fifth place. Convenient tanking tends to do more harm than good because winning is a habit and all that. Just saying that’s something to console yourself with if things go wrong. But the real target still has to be fourth and a home semi, which is kinda the only way I see the Nix progressing at this point.
The Phoenix’s home form is hard to quantify for a few reasons. Like playing a home game in Sydney, for example… jeez, how’s that decision looking now, Welnix? If money was the major factor then that might just have cost us some legit cash with a massive home playoff game. But if you ignore than then the Nix have won six of their last eight home games, with one being a 1-0 defeat to Sydney in which they largely controlled the game and the other being a 1-1 draw at Eden Park in Auckland against Melly Victory. They’ve mostly been great at Westpac and they’d have a fantastic chance of winning against Adelaide or Melbourne City if they got them in Wellington. But the worry is that they just wasted that opportunity. Still, one point is bugger all and the Nix have the best goal difference of the three teams in the running for fourth. It ain’t over yet by any means.
Elsewhere we had Steven Taylor finally returning to the lineup. Nice to have you back, Stevie T. His presence was an immediate boost for set pieces, and at both ends of the field. A major weakness of this team getting some salvation.
Next to him at right back was Justin Gulley, making his long awaited return to the Phoenix. Safe to say that the bloke looked very rusty with the pace of the game being so much quicker that what he was used to as a centre-back in the Premiership – especially this particular game where the Nix were too eager to score and refused to settle it down into a rhythm that they’d be more comfortable in. Second half they had no choice but to go all out, but that was because they allowed the Roar to play so quick that they buried them in the first 45. It was like they played with no regard for the opposition, as if it were a training exercise or something.
Anyway, Gulls struggled with some of that and his relative lack of pace ain’t ideal. But it wasn’t a shocker, simply a mixed bag. Some of his distribution was bloody excellent, feeding the ball inside to the strikers. He’ll settle in with more game time. Just a shame there isn’t much of that to go around, but injuries don’t happen to anybody’s convenient schedule so this is one more thing that the Nix simply have to deal with. No worries, I saw enough to trust that he can do a job there. And if we need more pace and penetration then Callan Elliot’s there waiting on the bench.
The Mark Rudan situation can have its own article tomorrow or on Wednesday. He might be on the way out but his job isn’t done yet and neither are the Wellington Phoenix this season despite the feeling that it’s all gone to the trash at the worst time. This team loves a little adversity and through the actions of their club, their manager, and most especially themselves these last two weeks, they’re now smack bang in the middle of it again. You either sulk against that adversity or you overcome it. Pretty simple, really.
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