As we approach the midpoint of season nine of the Hyundai A-League we take a look at how all the teams are progressing and identify their key to playing finals.
The Wellington Phoenix had a horrible start to the term, but have bounced back strongly to record three wins on the bounce.
They have certainly warmed to the task under Ernie Merrick and after a succession of luckless draws and losses, they finally recorded their first win of the season in Round 11 at home to Sydney FC.
Their goal in that 1-0 win was scored by their Belgian striker, Stein Huysegems, who beat Vedran Janjetovic and slotted the ball into an empty net. Just days before, he missed a penalty against Central Coast Mariners in their rescheduled fixture at North Sydney Oval, but his goal-scoring form has improved in-line with his side-s rapid upturn in results.
Clearly, the two are related and Huysegems went on to score in their win against Melbourne Heart (also 1-0) and then twice in the Phoenix-s 3-1 humbling of the reigning Premiers, Western Sydney Wanderers, at Pirtek Stadium on New Year-s Day.
For a side that looked certain to finish towards the bottom of the table, it is a remarkable turnaround.
They sit second form bottom, still, but are hot on the coat-tails of the equally improved Adelaide United, and within striking distance of Perth Glory and Newcastle Jets, who are sixth, ahead of them.
Ernie Merrick-s side can now confidently aim for the finals, particularly given the new that Carlos Hernandez-s wrist injury, originally suspected to keep him out for six weeks, is an existing problem and will likely see him available for their Round 14 match against Central Coast Mariners next weekend.
STAR MAN: Stein Huysegems.
This was a tight call between Huysegems and the rejuvenated Hernandez, who is starting to show the form that made him one of the most feared playmakers in the Hyundai A-League.
Huysegems- form though has been irresistible of late and he capped his return to goal scoring form with a sensational double against Wanderers, playing in the number 10 role.
COACH-S REPORT: Ernie Merrick
Merrick has been a revelation across the ditch, transforming the Phoenix-s style of playing and building it around a player he knows so well, Hernandez.
Wellington are very easy on the eye and with Hernandez in top form and Huysegems hitting the back of the net regularly, they are a threat to most, if not all.
It is a shame about the poor start to the season, but things are starting to come together nicely for Merrick and his side. Given that you could throw a blanket over the mid-table teams in the A-League, all is certainly not lost for the Wellington Phoenix.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not reflect those of Football Federation Australia.