13 Feb 2024

The truth is out there: Why the Wellington Phoenix can finally win the A-League

11:12 am on 13 February 2024
Nix Mascot meets Mulder and Scully.

Nix Mascot meets Mulder and Scully. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Do you believe? That was one of the taglines for hit show The X-Files, that became must-see TV in the 90s. It made overnight stars of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, whose will-they-won't-they chemistry, kept viewers on tenterhooks for 11 seasons and two underwhelming motion pictures.

So, in that very spirit, the Wellington Phoenix might be on course to accomplish something far more unbelievable than alien invasions, shapeshifting mutants or Rhys Darby's were-lizard. Is it time to believe that the Phoenix might finally win an A-League title?

Daylight is such an underrated currency in football. Up until now, it is something the Phoenix have not had the pleasure of enjoying - with Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners nipping at their heels.

But after the weekend's results, the Nix are now five points clear of their nearest challengers.

The Mariners were silenced by Sydney FC while Wellington had an extra-terrestrial effort from former goalie Filip Kurto to thank as Victory faltered at Macarthur. That result certainly rocketed the Bulls into title contention but the clearance at the top offers breathing space for Giancarlo Italiano's men.

The Phoenix seem to be overcoming every obstacle thrown at them, starting way back in the off-season.

Fans celebrate to their win after the A-League - Wellington Phoenix v Western United at Sky Stadium, Wellington.

Fans celebrate to their win after the A-League - Wellington Phoenix v Western United at Sky Stadium, Wellington. Photo: Masanori Udagawa

They lost their manager Ufuk Talay, key players such as Clayton Lewis, Oli Sail and Callan Elliott and their transfer business was fairly low-key. Nobody anticipated the emergence of youngsters like Finn Surman and Alex Paulsen to be so impactful. Then there have been injuries to key players, suspensions piling up at the wrong time and even having the wrong kit on for the weekend win over Western United.

But the Phoenix keep finding a way to thrive and, most importantly, get results.

Then there is that defensive record: nobody has conceded fewer goals in the league. Last season, the Phoenix gave away goals and winning positions as much as Mulder and Scully had near-death experiences - too many times for it to be believable. This year, with Tim Payne in his preferred right-back role and Surman, Paulsen and Lukas Kelly-Heald astute academy promotions, the same cannot be said - the recent blip at Brisbane Roar notwithstanding.

Then there is the embarrassment of attacking riches, which has been spread thin in recent weeks. Much like season nine of the X-Files, the Nix have had to make do without their star cast member for much of the campaign. Oskar Zawada's injury trouble has been barely noticed thanks to Kosta Barbarouses' form in front of goal while David Ball, Bozhidar Kraev and Ben Old all provide exciting playmaking abilities. They say the truth is out there, and the truth might be that the Phoenix have the best group of attackers in the league.

I know we are supposed to play things down, tall poppy blah blah and avoid jinxing this current run but I think we can all genuinely start to believe that this season might be written in the stars. Much like the aliens on the aforementioned television juggernaut, the Phoenix are not coming, they're already here.

Talking of unbelievable:

The Africa Cup of Nations reached its conclusion this week with the Ivory Coast completing a remarkable turnaround to be crowned kings of the continent. After losing twice in the group stage, the Ivorians sacked their manager Jean-Louis Gasset. Emerse Fae stepped into the void to lead them to triumph and provide some compelling proof that sometimes the boss is wrong. Sebastien Haller scored the winning goal to overcome Nigeria 2-1 in the final to complete his own career renaissance, one year after returning to football after treatment for testicular cancer.

Most people will know the feeling of watching an ex go on to better things with a new partner. No? Just me? Regardless, West Ham fans have that sinking feeling this Valentine's week as old flame Declan Rice helped new sweetheart Arsenal to a 6-0 away win at his old stomping ground.

Declan Rice of Arsenal FC celebrates with Gabriel Magalhaes and Bukayo Saka.

Declan Rice of Arsenal FC celebrates with Gabriel Magalhaes and Bukayo Saka. Photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media

And the not so unbelievable: The Football Ferns are making predictably light work of their task of qualifying for the Olympics. They essentially declared at 3-0 after just 16 minutes in their opening group fixture against Tonga before doubling their scoring against hosts Samoa next time out. Only Vanuatu, bottom of the group without a point, stand in their way of the semi-finals.