Season preview | Wellington

The Phoenix have built a strong consistent team but have they kept up with the pace?

The Phoenix have built a strong consistent team but have they kept up with the pace?

Wellington have steadily built on their successes in recent years and are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Hyundai A-League. In some respects their consistent and stable playing roster is a positive but doubts remain whether Phoenix will be able to keep up with their Australian rivals this season.

Ricki Herbert-s squad have maintained their strength at the back with Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Manny Muscat and Tony Lochead all staying on, while Glen Moss joining Mark Paston in the goalkeeper-s slots strengthens them there.

The midfield is still very capable and the addition of Jeremy Brockie should provide an extra source of goals, if the former Newcastle Jet-s prolific pre-season is anything to go by.

Paul Ifill remains Wellington-s most potent weapon, however, and without the Barbadian they were often toothless last season. Belgian striker Stein Huysegems looks like he could fit the bill, though; tall, powerful and the perfect target man for Phoenix-s “direct” tactics.

But still, will it be enough? Keeping Wellington in finals contention will be Ricki Herbert-s biggest challenge this season, as all the Australian clubs have moved quickly to keep up with Brisbane and the Mariners. This season might just pass the Phoenix by.

Key player: Paul Ifill There-s no doubt that the Phoenix are a better team when Ifill is on the field, but they are an even better side when he is allowed to be at his attacking best. The problem with that is that like all high quality players his desire to win sometimes overrides his positional play and he can be drawn deep when the Nix are in trouble.

To get the most out of his star, Ricki Herbert needs to assure Ifill stays high up the field for as long as possible and allows him to create and take his chances. A strong strike partner could help relieve some of that pressure.

Coach: Ricki Herbert Safe as long as he wants the coaching role at the Nix. Herbert is a national icon and also an astute football mind, he has done wonders with limited cash and a small roster in the past.

But Herbert must ensure his side remain strong away from home; the benefitted from their improved travel plans last season, and the tyranny of distance could again prove key to Phoenix-s chances.

X-Factor: Jeremy Brockie The All White comes home to New Zealand and will look to do everything Tim Brown did and more. He scored plenty of goals for the Jets last season and his combination in the midfield with Ifill could prove brilliant to watch.

Transfers In: Ricardo Clarke (loan, Sporting San Miguelito, Panama), Stein Huysegems (Belgium), Louis Fenton (Youth), Michael Boxall (Vancouver Whitecaps), Jeremy Brockie (Newcastle Jets), Glen Moss (Gold Coast United), Benjamin Totori Out: Chris Greenacre (retired), Nick Ward (Perth Glory), Daniel (released), Tony Warner (released), Tim Brown (retired).

Key fixtures Round 1 v Sydney FC (H): The Sky Blues return to the scene of their dismissal from last season-s finals and they will be hungry, if the Nix can vanquish them again then they can start the season on the appropriate high.

Round 6 v Perth Glory (A) The first distance derby of the year will see Wellington make the longest trip in football to a ground renowned as, as tough to play at as their own home ground. Having got over their inability to travel at times last year a win here would give them plenty of confidence.

Round 27 v Melbourne Victory (H) Finishing the regular season at home in what could be a vital match, both the Victory and Phoenix could be in the hunt for the Premier-s Plate and this match on the final day can have a real bearing on the ladder.

Stat shot: The Nix hit in the most crosses in the league last season with 159, but this year the losses of Tim Brown and Chris Greenacre means they are less of an aerial threat, having said that Brown racked up a league high ten cards last season, so their discipline should improve.

Prediction: Eighth (This is not the author-s prediction but an average of contributors.)

The Hyundai A-League 2012/13 season kicks off on Friday 5 October with the season-s first Melbourne derby at Etihad Stadium. Click here for tickets to all the matches.

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