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Pressure getting to Phoenix?

Saturday, 23 February 2013 9:35 AM
 

Pressure getting to Phoenix?

Team culture at Wellington Phoenix has played a big part in the Hyundai A-League side's success in recent years.

The camaraderie, on and off the field, the lack of cliques and the willingness to work hard for each other has been the hallmark of the side – and has often been a major selling point.

But the pressures of this season, where wins have been hard to come by and players' confidence has ebbed as they tried to embrace a more attractive brand of football, has started to see some of the bonhomie between teammates fray a little.

There have been no training ground bust-ups or spats off the field but Paul Ifill admits there have been some heated debates among teammates as they try to find the spark – and wins – that will lift them off the bottom of the table and into the finals for a fourth successive season.

"We've talked about it between the boys that you need the personal responsibility and we've always had that," he said.

"I've had a few arguments with Dura (captain Andrew Durante) and Vinnie (Lia) and the likes over the last couple of weeks. But it shows you still care.

"It's tough because at the moment I don't think anyone is particularly doing their job. It's hard to have a go at your mate for not doing his job if you're not doing yours.

"It's tough. It's not a nice time at the club at the moment. But I've been in this position before and normally you do come out of it."

Ifill concedes the team is just not playing well enough – and hasn't done for much of the season.

The playmaker is unhappy with his form and is frustrated that he hasn't scored in open play this season. He has two penalties to his credit.

"I played 60 minutes at the weekend and I don't think I had a shot," he said.

"You go out there and train hard all week and you look forward to the game and before you know it it's finished and you've not played well again. It's like: 'Oh my God, I've got to deal with this again'."

The next three games could decide the Phoenix's finals fate – and all in the space of a week. Although they languish at the bottom of the table, Wellington are just six points from sixth spot.

Adelaide United are first up on Sunday followed by Newcastle Jets on Wednesday night then Melbourne Heart next Sunday. All are home matches, although the Heart game will be played at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.

"It's a massive opportunity for us. Adelaide don't travel particularly well, or they haven't this season, and we're normally pretty solid at home," said Ifill.

"I think we've looked okay at times this season. We've not been at our best but it's a really good opportunity to put that straight and try and climb the table.

"With a bit of luck you can get the first win out the way and you roll into the second one feeling a lot better.

"You always feel a lot better after you've had a win. You have a loss and you ache and you're sore and don't think you can back up.

"You win that first game and there are no aches and pains and you go into the second one ready to go.

"It's an important time. We really need maximum points if we even want to get close to the playoffs."

The fact the finals still remain within reach amazes Ifill.

"It's probably not fair on the rest of the teams that we're that close," he admitted. "The same thing could be said of Perth.

"The fact we're two wins away from the top six is amazing, really, with how bad we've been this season.

"But that's the nature of the league. If we can go on a run and sneak in then you never know. Once you've got in that six, everyone is a chance."

Former All White Harry Ngata, who played for the Football Kingz in the NSL, agrees the Phoenix probably don't deserve to reach the finals series.

But he believes the same could be said of Brisbane, Perth and even Newcastle.

"They all have looked unconvincing at times throughout the course of the season," he said.

"I think deep down the Phoenix players understand that they haven't been good enough to-date. They want to turn things around.

"This is the first time the club have been in this position where they are really struggling for confidence.

"Technically, as well, players have been a little bit lost of late and when they've made mistakes they have been punished for them.

"You can honestly say the league has got better over the last 12 months and the Phoenix have probably not adapted as well as they should have or recruited for this (possession-based) brand of football."

The mid-season switch in style has been a major talking point but in recent weeks there have been signs of a return to a more direct approach.

"They've tried to go back to what they know and things haven't gone their way of late," added Ngata.

"When your back is against the wall and the chips are down you've got to roll your socks up and go back to basics and fight for every ball. Fight for every point you can get.

"Certainly, coming out of this game (against Adelaide) with nothing will make it very, very difficult for the last few weeks."

But Ngata has been pleased to see young New Zealand talent, like Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd, make the step up to professional football.

The pair started out in the Phoenix's football school of excellence and the club's owners, the Welnix consortium, are looking to establish more academies to help promote and nurture the country's young footballers.

"I believe there is an untapped talent here," said Ngata. "We've seen a number of young players, Marco Rojas, Costa Barbarouses, Michael McGlinchey (come through). Rojas and McGlinchey have been in the top five players in the A-League this season and Costa the year before.

"There is no doubt there is young talent here and they need to foster that talent. This is a great stepping stone."

 
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