Melbourne Victory 0 Wellington Phoenix 3
Sunday 2nd April 2017
AAMI Park, Melbourne, Australia
Attendance : 17,011

It was a big weekend in New Zealand football, the Wellington winter season kicked off, including the Men's Central League and the new Women's W-League. The summer season was finishing with the Grand Final in Auckland between Team Wellington and Auckland City, a re-match of last season's final. So where do I choose to go, well it's obvious isn't it? Wellington Phoenix playing away at Melbourne Victory!

This was my first proper away game, I have traveled to see the Phoenix play in Nelson and New Plymouth, but they were "home" games, this was the first time I'd seen them play at an opposing teams ground. It was also the first time I'd had to take an International flight for a what was considered a domestic league game.

On the face of it, Melbourne Victory wasn't the best choice for my first Phoenix away game. In the last game in Melbourne between the teams Victory dealt out a 6-1 thrashing. Overall the Phoenix's record against the Victory in Melbourne is appalling - 1 win in 14 league games.

But for some reason I quite like Victory, maybe it's the navy blue (ala Scotland) colour of the strip, the club song "Victory the Brave" (a re-working of Scotland the Brave) or the postal address of GPO Box 1967. They do have downsides, such as Kevin Muscat and they way they always seem to beat the Phoenix.

Phoenix fans in the Cherry Tree Pub
I got in touch with the Phoenix Melbourne Supporters group, who said they'd be meeting up in the Cherry Tree Pub in Cremone. It was all organised rather late, partly due to the main organiser of the group now being in based in Sydney. Still 4 of us turned up to what was a great little pub with the oddest of things - some decent Australian beer!

Puskas Statue
AAMI park is a proper football stadium, rectangle (is was called the Rectangle Stadium before AAMI came along and sponsored it), stands close to the pitch, and the away fans shoved into a corner! They even had a statue of footballing great Ferenc Puskas outside. The connection being that Puskas had coached South Melbourne to the National League title in 1991.

The week before the Phoenix did nothing to advance their claim that the A-League's failure to recognise the FIFA international window was very damaging to them, as despite having 7 players away on international duty, they hammered Newcastle Jets 5-0. This left the management team of Buckingham & Greenacre with the best problem - who to leave out of the starting XI. They went with minimal changes but this is the Phoenix, so despite having a great win and being on a high, I was expecting the worst. I needn't have worried. 

The Phoenix were playing well and bossing the game, Roly Bonevacia was outstanding and got 2 goals. Then we got to the famous "shirts off" (when the Phoenix are winning with 10 minutes to go the fans take their tops off) and the Melbourne based fans (there were considerably more than the 3 I met in the pub earlier!) obviously aren't used to this so there were only a few of us that did this, (and one of these was reluctant as he had been evicted when he had done the same thing in Brisbane). Then after chance after chance went begging, Smeltz finally got the ball over the line for the 3rd and we got to sing "cherrio, cherrio" and "we can see you sneaking out" at the departing Victory fans.
Victory fans before they started sneaking out

It was a great day out with a great result, but typically for the Phoenix it looks as if it could be too little too late (again). The last 2 weeks have shown how well the team can play and you need to ask why they haven't been doing so throughout the rest of the season. The players have all stepped up a gear only when it seems that they have contracts to play for.

There has been a high turnover of backroom staff over the last 2 years which points to serious issues throughout the club and the owners really need to take control of this and change the attitude and culture of the club if they have any ambition to be successful in this league.