The Kiwi outfit are off the mark and have won two in succession, but their revival faces its sternest test yet when they go away to the reigning premiers
Crisis for Wellington...what crisis? A little over a week ago it looked like the Phoenix would again be battling for the wooden spoon this season but a 1-0 win over Melbourne Heart made it back-to-back wins for Ernie Merrick's side. It was the first time in 18 months the Kiwis had won consecutive games and confidence must be building throughout the squad as they close in on the top six. While they had struggled for victories in the first third of the campaign, the Phoenix had played a lot better than their ladder position indicated and they are now getting rewarded for their efforts. Wellington have won just once against the Wanderers from five clashes but both encounters already this season have ended all square.
The speculation of Shinji Ono's possible departure in January has intensified in recent weeks with a host of club's keen to secure the Japanese midfielder's services. Popovic is adamant Ono is going nowhere but until the 34-year-old puts pen-to-paper on a new deal there are sure to be some nervous Wanderers fans...and players. While dealing with contract talk and player movement is nothing new, Popovic will want the matter put to bed quickly so they can focus on chasing down the Roar.
For the Phoenix, the priority must be attempting to keep the home fans quiet. We never said it was easy but it would certainly help the Phoenix's chances of escaping from Wanderland with any points. There's no denying the Wanderers possess the most vocal and passionate support in the A-League and have become a major part of the new club's success. The Phoenix would have taken some confidence from their 1-1 draw on the Wanderers' home turf earlier in the season and will hope to use that experience to eke out a similar result.
After a mini-stoush with the club just before Christmas, Costa Rican Carlos Hernandez has started the last two games and appears to be nearing his best form. Hernandez's creativity and eye for a strike from distance is sure to be vital to the Phoenix's chances of breaking down the meanest defence in the competition. With striker Steyn Huysegums now starting to find the back of the net on a regular basis, the Phoenix certainly possess the firepower to pressure the Wanderers.
With the games coming thick and fast during the busy festive schedule, it would be no surprise if there was a couple of upsets or shock results across the A-League. Despite the Phoenix's back-to-back wins, this contest is unlikely to be one of them. The Wanderers have a formidable home record and Popovic has the uncanny ability to continually tinker with his side and still get the best out of them. It was around this stage last season where the Wanderers hit top gear on the way to the Premiers' Plate and they will see this match as the perfect opportunity for history to repeat.
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