End of 2021/22 season report card: Wellington Phoenix

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After a slow start to the year, a brilliant fightback and a valiant finals performance, it is time to break down how the Wellington Phoenix faired in this season’s A-League Men competition.

Season Summary:

With the Wellington Phoenix yet again needing to play most of their 2021/22 season in Australia, many thought that a finals appearance might have been a bridge too far for the team this campaign. They were wrong.

After a slow start that saw them sit in last place for multiple rounds, it all turned around for Wellington after a spectacular February. Over five games in just 13 days, the men from New Zealand were able to pick up 11 points out of a possible 15, including wins over Macarthur and Melbourne Victory.

From there, the side was in the driving seat to make the finals, and despite some bumps along the way, including numerous heavy defeats, they were able to hold on. They finished the regular season sitting in sixth, exactly two wins clear of seventh to comfortably make the finals.

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The heart that the had shown all season was on full display throughout their elimination final clash against Western United after falling behind early. Away from home and a goal behind, it would have been easy for the Phoenix to lose belief, however, in fitting with their whole season they fought against adversity.

Despite the Phoenix pushing late it just wasn’t meant to be, as Western held on to knock the New Zealand team out in the first weekend of finals.

Areas of Excellence: Home record

It might seem strange to be talking about Wellington’s home form in a season where they played just twice in New Zealand, however, whenever the Phoenix were designated as the home team it seemed to result in points.

They ended up collecting the third most points per game at home this season, trailing only Western United and Central Coast Mariners. They were able to grab eight wins out of their 13 matches, complimenting their two draws to get points in over 75 per cent of their home fixtures.

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Five of these wins came in their seven-game unbeaten run after the Covid delays, where despite playing home fixtures in Wollongong, Sydney and Gosford they seemed to be able to bring their form with them wherever they were based.

Whilst in many ways they were often only the home team on paper, their performances in these fixtures showed the camaraderie that they had amongst the team, putting in for the few home fans that could attend.

Unfortunately in the team’s first game in New Zealand in the 2021/22 season the Mariners played party spoiler, however, a 1-0 win in Auckland against Western Sydney Wanderers saw them get a least one victory in their home nation. With the Phoenix likely to be based in New Zealand next season, expect this record to continue when they can play in front of their ever-vocal home fans.

Areas of Improvement: Consistency

Apart from their seven-game unbeaten run during a six-week period early in 2022, Wellington struggled to find any sort of consistency throughout this season.

This can be seen by the fact that during their last 17 games they didn’t win or lose more than two matches in a row. This lack of consistency is also proven in their match day results, with the team losing four of their last 12 regular season games by at least four goals.

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Wellington fans never knew what they were going to get in season 2021/22, with the side capable of defeating third-placed Western United twice, whilst they lost 10-3 across their three fixtures against the box office Newcastle Jets.

With the incredibly difficult circumstances that the Phoenix faced throughout this season, no one can blame them for struggling to find consistent form during a totally irregular campaign. However, just one or two of those big losses swinging the other way would have seen them potentially secure a home final.

Top Student Oliver Sail

Whilst there were numerous players that stood up for the Phoenix throughout the season, including the likes of Jaushua Sotirio and Gael Sandoval, it is hard to look past stand in captain Oliver Sail for this award.

Despite the side conceding the most goals in the league this year, you would be hard pressed to find someone who thought that Sail was not spectacular, standing tall in numerous games throughout 2021/22.

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His performances kept Wellington in many close fixtures, with his effort against Brisbane Roar late in the season being regarded as arguably one of the best goalkeeping displays in league history. During that night he made 11 saves, keeping a clean sheet despite the Roar having 36 shots and an xG of 3.46.

It was not just in that match that Sail excelled, with the shot stopper making 93 saves across 23 games this season. This was the highest save rate of anyone in the league who played more than 10 games, with an average of four per match.

Whilst his efforts with the gloves were crucial for his team, his leadership capabilities were just as vital during their gruelling season away from home. It is safe to say that without Sail between the posts it could have been a very different season for the Phoenix.

Class Clown: Gary Hooper

After a reasonably successful first stint in New Zealand, scoring eight goals in the 2019/20 season, Hooper’s time with the Phoenix this campaign didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Whilst injury plagued the striker throughout the season, a promising start soon fizzled into a disappointing campaign, at least by the Englishman’s standards. Three goals in his first five matches gave fans hope, however, his remaining nine games left much to be desired.

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Throughout those matches the striker would take only six shots, with his only goal in this period being a poacher’s finish in a loss to Brisbane.

Despite signing on for two years, the Englishman opted out of the Phoenix’s next campaign, with the striker leaving Wellington with just four goals over fourteen matches in his second stint at the club. Whilst this isn’t the worst return, the Wellington faithful would have surely been expecting more from the former Scottish Premiership golden boot winner.

Grade: B+

Outlook:

With Ufuk Talay still having time left on his contract and the appointment of Dwight Yorke dispelling any rumours of him signing at Macarthur, Wellington fans should be confident in the platform that they have to propel off next season.

Whilst the likes of Piscopo, Sotirio and McGarry have all been linked with moves away, the Phoenix will still be confident that they can compete with the very best come season 2022/23 even if those three leave.

According to Talay, there are currently 15 players signed for the Phoenix next year, with visa spots available.

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Expect the New Zealand side to be able to attract some quality overseas talent, especially with the high likelihood that they will be playing at home throughout their next campaign.

With a full season at home, a solid base and some spots open for exciting overseas talent, Wellington fans should be licking their lips at the prospect of the 2022/23 season.

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William Makepeace
Current Intern covering Canberra United. Sports Media student at University of Canberra who lives and breathes Football

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