Rudan’s new spine suggests good times ahead for Phoenix
All pre-season, new coach Mark Rudan was forthright in his desire to make Wellington Phoenix a team that would work hard, fight and is hard to beat.
And on the evidence of their first 90 minutes of the season – a 2-1 win against the Newcastle Jets - on Sunday, it’s easy to see there’ll be much more steel in the Phoenix of 2018/19.
While they still have a way to go before they are consistently mixing it with the Hyundai A-League’s best, the early signs are promising.
And it’s a lot to do with the spine to new boss has been able to put in his line-up.
In goal, Polish gloveman Filip Kurto made a brilliant start to his Hyundai A-League career.
He looked assured in almost everything he did, from claiming crosses, to organising his defenders and distribution from the back.
His stunning reflex save to tip Nigel Boogaard’s close-range header onto the crossbar – with his side leading 1-0 with 20 minutes left - was as brilliant as it was decisive in the end result.
In front of him, former Premier League defender Steven Taylor already looks to be a brilliant signing.
In a back three alongside skipper Andrew Durante and Tom Doyle, Taylor’s cool, composed persona rubbed off on those around him, while he hardly let the likes of Jair or Jason Hoffman get a sniff in front of goal.
And the third of his new recruits in the spine also looks like he’ll be vital to Wellington’s hopes.
Spanish midfielder Mandi has a resume that includes playing for Real Madrid’s reserve team and more than 200 games in the Spanish second and third divisions.
Not only did he protect his defence with some key tackles and his ability to read the match, but also was quite adept and starting Phoenix attacks with clever, forward passes.
Considering he’s only been with the side a matter of weeks, Mandi will only get better as the season goes on.
And then there’s Wellington’s flying Fijian Roy Krishna.
Even during the Phoenix’s struggles of the last couple of seasons, Krishna has often come up big for the side.
His match-sealing goal in the final minute against the Jets was his 33rd for the club, taking him level on Phoenix’s all-time scorers charts alongside club legend Paul Ifill.
Krishna got his big break with the Phoenix back in January of 2014, ironically on an injury-replacement contract for Ifill.
And he’s been one of Wellington’s best ever since, delivering key goals, just like he did to ice the result against Newcastle to hand the Phoenix just their second opening round win in the club’s history.