A-League Season Review: Wellington Phoenix

Wellington had a tumultuous 2020/21 season away from home. (Photo: wellingtonphoenix.com)

Finishing position: 7th (38 points, 10 wins, 8 draws, 8 losses)

The highs:

It’s hard to look further than Wellington’s first home game in 433 days, where it dispatched Western United 3-0 to continue its hunt for a finals position.

While they didn’t make the six in the end, falling short by just a point, the 24,150 crowd – the highest of any this season – was magnificent. It’s one of the feel-good sporting stories of the season, and the football on show from the home side was a representative of the atmosphere – positive and excitable.

Wellington won 3-0, with goals from Clayton Lewis, Reno Piscopo and Tomer Hemed securing victory. It was the kind of match that, from a neutral’s point of view, you couldn’t help but cheer on the homecoming New Zealand team.

The atmosphere was amazing, the football fantastic and the record crowd capped off one of the multitudes of brilliant matches fans could feast their eyes on over the course of the campaign.

The lows:

Wellington’s slow start to the season seems to be what has forbidden it from making the six for what would have been a third consecutive season this campaign.

The Nix picked up just five points out of an available 24 in their first eight games. 

Despite playing good football, they struggled to create chances while injuries and a lack of experience in defence plagued them in the opening matches.

While they managed to pick up form in the following two games, beating Newcastle and Perth Glory 2-0 and 3-0 respectively, inconsistency troubled them over the course of the season. 

Their consistent inability to turn draws into wins also hurt them – the Nix drew eight games this season, the joint-most along with Sydney FC.

Had they had a better start to the campaign, we could be talking about Wellington in a very different light and way, looking ahead over the next triad of weeks. 

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MVP:

There were a plethora of options available for Wellington’s most valuable player this season.

Captain Ulises Davila was magnificent again, and Reno Piscopo was delightful when on form, although both struggled with injuries throughout the campaign.

Tim Payne impressed when moving into the centre of defence, while Cameron Devlin was his usual energetic and technical self in the middle of the park. 

However, David Ball deserves to be rewarded for his consistency and work ethic throughout the season.

With Wellington having injury struggles consistently in their front line (particularly Davila, Piscopo and Hemed earlier in the season), Ball was forced to play in all four front positions – both places upfront, while on the left and right as a ten. 

His versatility was key to Wellington’s play this season, while he managed six goals and four assists, creating 43 chances along the way. 

While he wasn’t perhaps the headline writer for the Nix over the course of the campaign, he was extremely valuable in his work rate, consistency and versatility. 

Breakout player:

It was tempting to pick Clayton Lewis for this category, but we’ve instead gone with perhaps the more obvious player – Oliver Sail.

After Wellington’s slow start to the season, Ufuk Talay looked to make some changes to the side. He interestingly made the choice to bring the twenty-five-year-old Oliver Sail into the number one position, replacing experienced New Zealand international Stefan Marinovic. 

Previously, Sail had only played eight matches in the A-League, with four coming in the 2017/18 season and the other half coming in the 18/19 campaign.

Sail played his first match of this season in the 2-2 draw with the Western Sydney Wanderers, and while conceding two goals, impressed with his handling, composure and shot-stopping ability. 

He would remain in the side over the course of the season, playing twenty games and keeping six clean sheets along the way.

The young goalkeeper was fantastic in his saving rate, and consistently kept Wellington in matches with his reflexes and saving ability. 

Sail faced 110 shots on target this season and saved 87 of them. 

The 25-year-old recently signed a two-year contract extension with the Nix, securing the goalkeeping position for years to come.

Final word:

While Wellington may look back in agony at the games that cost them a finals position, they again exceeded expectations, playing beautiful football in a stadium 2,221 kilometres away from their usual home.

The Nix should be applauded for the sacrifices they made, and the immense contribution and decision they had on the league over the course of the 2020/21 season.

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