If the Wellington Phoenix had played Melbourne City or Adelaide United at the weekend, they would be playing off in a semi-final next week.
The intensity and aggression the travelling Phoenix brought to AAMI Park last week would have beaten most sides but unfortunately – for the Phoenix at least – things didn’t pan out this way.
Instead this Phoenix side, fuelled with emotion, learned the hard way about how mistakes are punished as Melbourne Victory took advantage of their errors in their two-goal win.
But despite not claiming a result – Wellington fans still have plenty to be excited for.
It was perhaps a premature exit for the Phoenix, who at times looked poised to finish fourth, but it was a major step for a club flirting with extinction.
They may have still finished sixth, in a ten-team competition, but the football they played indicated they deserved to be there.
If it wasn’t the Golden boot winner Roy Krishna doing the damage it was Sarpreet Singh or a reinvigorated David Williams, who all combined for 35 goals this season.
Mark Rudan may have avoided answering questions surrounding his legacy at the club, but his impact has laid the foundation for a bright future with Ufuk Talay announced as the new head coach.
Any fears the Phoenix weren’t up for finals football were quickly put to rest as they put their much-fancied opponents on the back foot early – adopting a physical presence.
While they failed to get past Lawrence Thomas, their intensity personified Rudan’s style and passion for the club.
For the first time in a long time the Phoenix will head into a new season almost expected to return to the finals and continue to break new ground.
Should the Phoenix retain this core group of players and recruit smartly, there is no reason why they can’t return to the finals next season.
Featured Image: Ngau Kai Yan