11 Oct 2015

How will the Phoenix go in the A-League?

11:42 am on 11 October 2015

OPINION: The Wellington Phoenix football coach got grumpy this week after they were limited to a scrappy 30-minute training game on the hallowed Westpac Stadium turf.

The usually unflappable Ernie Merrick wanted more time on their home ground ahead of today's A-League season opener against the Newcastle Jets.

Ernie Merrick

Can Ernie Merrick take this Phoenix side further than last season? Photo: Photosport

Let's hope the frustration is a sign that the Phoenix are fired up to build on last year's solid effort that saw them hit several highs before exiting meekly in the first week of finals football.

Phoenix fans Paul Thompson and David Allan tackle the burning questions.

Last season's best player Nathan Burns has left the club. How badly will they miss him?

PT: The Phoenix are nowhere near filling the hole left by Burns' departure, and the current squad lacks a proven goal-scorer at this level. Roy Krishna is averaging a goal every three games and will chip in a few but the Phoenix will look to their midfield for a lot of their goals. New signing Jeffrey Sarpong has pedigree as a midfielder and it will be fascinating to see whether Merrick can covert him into an effective striker.

DA: The conversion of former Ajax and Real Sociedad player Sarpong into a free-scoring striker is clearly key, but Merrick does have a fair track record in this department. There is pace to burn offensively with Sarpong, Kwabinah Appiah and Krishna, who with more composure on the ball, could have his best season - but he needs to. Young Aussie Blake Powell may be the wildcard, after being given the chance of another crack at this level. Am more concerned about the other end.

Phoenix striker Nathan Burns is on the move to Japan.

How will the Phoenix cope without Socceroos star Nathan Burns? Photo: Photosport

And what about the defence?

PT: They had one of the better defensive records in the A-League last season and remain heavily reliant on veteran centre backs Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund, who aren't getting any faster. Left back remains a concern. New signing Troy Danaskos plays there and, if he is any good, could prove a masterstroke. Keeper Glen Moss will come under pressure from the younger custodian Lewis Italiano.

Phoenix defender Troy Danaskos

Phoenix defender Troy Danaskos Photo: PHOTOSPORT

DA: Biggest concern, and the hot topic on the Yellow Fever forum. Odds of Durante and Sigmund being injury-free are not good, and specialist centre back cover is still needed. Danaskos is the latest attempt to resolve the club's long-time left back issue. All a bit 'in Ernie we trust'.

Is the Phoenix midfield as good as Merrick says it is?

PT: Yes. Alex Rodriguez and Roly Bonevacia are both still young and have the potential to be two of the best midfielders in the A-League. Bonevacia in particular is quality and has shown he can score goals. It is will be fascinating to see where Sarpong fits in. Albert Reira will play the holding midfield role with aplomb.

DA: Yes. Something the Phoenix lacked for a long time - Bonevacia had an excellent first season and will back that up after showing good form in pre-season. Roly's arguably too good for this league. Time though for back-ups like Alex Rufer and Matthew Ridenton to step up and prove they have what it takes at this level. Can't afford to have the key midfielders burn out by playoff time.

What about Michael McGlinchey?

Much more is expected of Phoenix midfielder Michael McGlinchey this A-League football season.

Much more is expected of Michael McGlinchey this A-League football season. Photo: Photosport

PT: He will be a key player. He looked flat for much of last year but has the potential to be a game-changer if he can find form and if Merrick can get him more involved. If the Phoenix are to have a good season I think McGlinchey will need to be at his best, imposing himself on the game and scoring a few goals.

DA: Am sure Ernie will work-out how to get McGlinchey more involved. If that happens, it could be a very good year.

Biggest concern?

PT: Last season the Phoenix ran out of puff and stumbled towards the end. This is a tough competition and the side may simply not have the depth or the toughness for finals football.

DA: Defence, and being outmuscled in key games later on. Vince Lia has his critics, but his opponents always knows he's around.

Prediction?

PT: Fifth - and then quickly out in the playoffs.

DA: Fourth - with a decent playoff run.

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