Soccer: Hard hits win team respect

By Fred de Jong, Michael Burgess

Dylan McAllister shows the force that's earned his teammates' respect. Photo / Getty Images
Dylan McAllister shows the force that's earned his teammates' respect. Photo / Getty Images

Dylan McAllister's new nickname is proof of his progress at the Phoenix.

The 1.91m striker was known as 'Big Mac' when he came to Wellington but has since been labelled 'the Hammer'.

This is not a reference to any private eye tendencies (Detective Mike Hammer) or outrageous moves on the dance floor (MC Hammer) but more alluding to the power the 28-year-old brings.

"I guess they think I hit the ball pretty hard," laughs Macallister, "all in all it's not a bad one to have."

The former Central Coast Mariner has brought a physical force to the Wellington club, able to mix it with the toughest. His presence has enabled the team to play with an old-fashioned target man, either as a lone force up front or with one or two players running off him.

Macallister is not known as a goalscorer but has exhibited his ferocious shot - both from set pieces and open play - several times this season, as well as aerial ability. He has scored six goals in just 12 starts (19 appearances in total), as well as three goal assists.

The Australian has managed 42 attempts on goal (21 on target); third best at the club behind Chris Greenacre and Paul Ifill, though the English duo have had considerably more time on the park.

Probably his most important function has been the ability to hold the ball up under pressure. "He's a big plus for us at the back end of this season," says coach Ricki Herbert. "He's done a good job. Dylan has scored goals, added some muscle, has presence and is working hard. He has done everything we expected of him."

Says former All White Fred de Jong: "He provides a central focus. While Greenacre tends to hunt out wide, Macallister stays central and often seems more involved."

Macallister says he is enjoying his football with the Phoenix. "Our confidence is high and the boys are making my job easier. Before I came here, it was well known around the league that this team were [close knit] and this is probably the best dressing room I have been in."

That is high praise from a football nomad. The Phoenix are Macallister's seventh club since 1999, including three teams in Norway and in Australia. He admits to missing the Sydney outdoor lifestyle at first but, with his young family, has been quick to settle in Wellington, perhaps helped by the presence of other Australians.

He still harbours ambitions of representing the Socceroos (he went to the 2009 Asian Cup in Indonesia but did not play) and feels his best years are to come. For now, the focus is on the crucial match against North Queensland today then hopefully the A-League play-offs.

The Phoenix should seal their playoff spot today (a point will suffice) and Macallister is confident the team have what it takes to progress further, despite their less than impressive record away from home.

"It has been our goal all season and we know if we lose that is the end. [The play-offs] should produce a lot of nervous energy but we are all professionals. It is just a matter of following the game plan that Ricki comes up with and all doing our individual jobs."

The Phoenix have failed to perform away from home - or at least failed to get results - so how will it be different in the pressure of a knockout match?

Herbert was making no excuses for the regular failures across the Tasman.

"You generally get what you deserve in this league. But if we make the play-offs we should have most of our key personnel back on deck and have as good a chance as anyone."

Whatever happens to the Phoenix this year, it's still uncertain if Macallister will be wearing No 23 next season. His work has impressed other clubs and there has been interest from around Asia as well as the A-League. He was reluctant to discuss his future but admitted "options are open."

Herbert said they expected to sit down with Macallister's representatives over the next month, in their continued planning for the 2011-2012 season.

- Herald on Sunday

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