Wellington – The Wellington Phoenix managed to hang on to a draw away at Gold Coast United on Sunday evening.
Some in the Yellow Fever would be disappointed at not coming up with a rare away win to start the season, as Chris
Greenacre gave the Phoenix an early lead which was only lost in the dying stages of the game as Gold Coast came home
But the draw was not a bad result considering the build-up to the season.
People (and sporting clubs for that matter) are remarkable things. They continue to struggle on when placed under
intense pressure whether it be poverty, sickness or just plain stress.
Sometimes after living under extreme conditions for a long time it becomes such a part of routine it takes an outside
person to notice that this is not a normal way of life.
One Australian commentator summarising the A-league teams chances described Wellington’s pre-season as this:
``Death by a thousand cuts in New Zealand. After saving New Zealand football when he came to the rescue of the New
Zealand Knights, Terry Serepisos completed a dramatic fall from grace as his business empire crumbled around him,
leaving a thread-bare and under-resourced squad to stutter through what must go down as the worst pre-season any club
has experienced in the A-League.
Fingers crossed that the recent change in ownership has not come too late for Phoenix to turn things around and make a
play for a finals spot.
Don’t hold your breath on a Phoenix top 6 finish – recent changes may be too little, too late to save the season’’
There has been much talk about Serepisos, no matter the rights and wrongs of what has unfolded he saved football in New
Zealand and should get credit for that.
Wellington gained from the boom in his economic cycle and some seemed to take great pleasure in his going bust. New
Zealanders may not be the only race to take pleasure in other’s pain (the Germans did not invent the word Schadenfreude
without reason), but some in this country are masters of the perverse art of glorying in others pain and even sticking
the knife in further.
The Phoenix were lucky to find more white knights to come riding to their rescue, but it still came too late to put
together a decent squad and Manager Ricky Herbert only just managed to get the minimum required squad of 20 professional
players at the last moment.
Herbert picked up a few decent players and hold on to the core of his pretty dependable squad. The loss of Marco Rojas
though was a bitter blow to many supporters.
Rojas is probably New Zealand’s most exciting football talent since Rufer. He was always going to leave Wellington, but
we should have got one more season out of him.
The same goes for Kosta Barbarouses, who left because he could not get game time and then shone in Australia when he
did. This leaves some to suspect that Herbert is not a big fan of testing youth.
Making it worse for Herbert, the players he has managed to get into the squad have been going down with more injuries
than an All Black squad.
Lucas Pantelis joined Wellington and then promptly destroyed his knee and will miss the entire season. A loss as the
experienced midfielder would have given them a bit more steel.
Mirjan Pavlovic, who many hoped would provide that exciting spark that Rojas had given, also went and broke his arm.
By now even the ever calm Herbert must be feeling the strain before the season opener. Especially it was away and
Wellington only managed to win two games on the road last season.
Heaping on the pain the quick trip across the Tasman became a 14 hour nightmare due to plane delays, fires and oil
The game itself was not a bad one. Gold Coast threatened early and the Phoenix were saved a couple of times by the
But Wellington created the better chances against quite a lazy looking Gold Coast defence. Greenacre could have added to
his goal a number of times as the oldest player on the field run around like a teenager on speed.
The Phoenix defence looked solid and organised with Mark Paston pulling off some great saves as Gold Coast came back
Both Paul Iffil and Leo Bertos showed more than a few glimpses of the form that made the Phoenix a real threat to anyone
in the league over past seasons.
But Wellington wilted in the dying stages and they let James Brown weave and shoot and the three points were gone.
More worrying is that the injury toll began to mount in the opening game of the campaign with Dani Sanchez, who looked
bright on debut, leaving injured, as did Vince Lia and Ifill.
It could be a long, hard season. But like in life you carry on and I will be at the stadium next week.