Jason Pine is Radio Sport's former football commentator

Football: Where to now for the Wellington Phoenix?

Roy Krishna's combination with Kosta Barbarouses promises plenty. Photo / Getty
Roy Krishna's combination with Kosta Barbarouses promises plenty. Photo / Getty

As the curtain comes down on one of the more disappointing A-League campaigns in the history of the Wellington Phoenix, Jason Pine asks, where to now?

The 2015/16 season promised a lot but delivered little. Seven wins from 27 games is a meagre return which was never going to be good enough to return the Phoenix to the finals for a second straight season.

After hitting Christmas in the playoff mix, the Phoenix lost 12 of their last 16 games and were never in the hunt in the last two months of the season.

So what does the club need to do to become competitive again in 2016/17? And where is the squad in most need of reinforcement?

Goalkeeper

Glen Moss is the clear number one custodian. Photo / Getty
Glen Moss is the clear number one custodian. Photo / Getty

Signed for next season: Glen Moss, Lewis Italiano, Oliver Sail

Moss continues to be the undisputed number one stopper at the club, playing every minute of the 2015/16 campaign. Barring injury, he'll start the new season as the clear first-choice with youngsters Italiano and Sail biding their time and waiting for an opportunity.

Defence

Dylan Fox and Louis Fenton will return for the Phoenix next season. Photo / Getty
Dylan Fox and Louis Fenton will return for the Phoenix next season. Photo / Getty

Signed for next season: Andrew Durante, Dylan Fox, Thomas Doyle, Louis Fenton

This is clearly the biggest area of concern for coach Ernie Merrick and his largest off-season challenge. With Manny Muscat departing and Ben Sigmund retiring, the defensive stocks are left paper-thin.

It's basically not-negotiable that Merrick finds a starting central defender and right fullback, while also keeping an eye out for another young defender to both deepen the roster and keep an eye on the future. While rookie centre-back Dylan Fox showed promise in his dozen appearances in 2015/16, he hasn't yet earned the right to consider himself a first-choice when October rolls around.

Doyle was solid at left-back and showed enough to suggest he may be the long-term incumbent in that spot.

Midfield

Roly Bonevacia was a standout this season. Photo / Getty
Roly Bonevacia was a standout this season. Photo / Getty

Signed for next season: Albert Riera, Alex Rodriguez, Roly Bonevacia, Michael McGlinchey, Gui Finkler, Matthew Ridenton, James McGarry

Things look reasonably healthy in the engine-room ahead of 2016/17. The acquisition of Finkler will add another layer of creativity, and most fans will be excited about the fruit his partnership with Bonevacia may bear.

Albert Riera still appeals as first-choice in the defensive midfield role, but he'll need to curb the poor discipline which saw him twice sent off this season, while earning a further six bookings.

Merrick has a decision to make about the re-signing (or not) of Vince Lia. While he doesn't appear to be a starting player given the resources listed here, the departure of Muscat and Sigmund robs the club of huge experience, which the retention of Lia may help to address.

Attack

Kosta Barbarouses won't be scoring against the Phoenix any longer. Photo / Getty
Kosta Barbarouses won't be scoring against the Phoenix any longer. Photo / Getty

Signed for next season: Roy Krishna, Kosta Barbarouses, Blake Powell, Logan Rogerson

The signing of Barbarouses - one of the best attacking players in the A-League - is a great piece of business and his combination with Krishna and the side's attacking midfielders should have fans in high anticipation.

This season's top-scorer Powell is likely to be relegated to a bench player, while Merrick is in discussions with Hamish Watson to extend his loan stay into next season.

Coaching staff

Ernie Merrick is still the right man to take the Phoenix forward, but he's been stung by this campaign. As the season went on and the losses and injuries mounted, the carefree Scotsman wore a frown more often than he has at any time during his three years in Wellington. Chris Greenacre and Des Buckingham remain able lieutenants. The mix feels right, but results will need to improve if increased scrutiny is to be avoided.

Culture

The togetherness and solidarity of the Phoenix squad has always been one of its strengths. This has been driven largely by the senior playing group and with the departures of Sigmund, Muscat and possibly Lia, even more responsibility will fall on the shoulders of particularly Durante and also Moss and McGlinchey to drive team culture among a much younger and more diverse playing group. Sigmund's input in an off-field mentoring role may also be key.

Summary

Needed (in order of priority): Centre-back, right fullback, defensive utility, back-up striker, defensive-minded midfielder.

Possible Phoenix Starting 11 for 2016-17 A-League season:
Moss
New fullback - New centre-back - Durante - Doyle
Riera - Finkler - Bonevacia
Barbarouses - Krishna - McGlinchey

- NZ Herald

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