Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Football: Capital gains when Roy Krishna hits top form

Roy Krishna has become a key weapon for the Phoenix. Photo / Photosportnz
Roy Krishna has become a key weapon for the Phoenix. Photo / Photosportnz

Roy Krishna has become, in his own words, one of the "veterans" at the Wellington Phoenix.

It's a little hard to comprehend, as it doesn't seem so long ago that Krishna first moved to the capital trying to make the step up from the national league.

But last week Krishna passed the 50-game milestone in the A-League and there are only a handful of others in the current Phoenix squad who have played more.

After an uncertain start in Wellington, Krishna has become one of the most important members of the team; a genuine goal scorer (only five other players have scored more goals in Phoenix history), whose pace and anticipation can also create chances for others. But it wasn't always that way.

"I've changed heaps," said Krishna. "In that first season I struggled with the pace, the structure and the mental side of the game. There was so much to learn but the boys have helped me a lot."

Professional football can be a cruel environment, where only the toughest survive. Krishna discovered that during a month-long Phoenix trial in May 2009, soon after he was named player of the season in the New Zealand Football Championship.

"He was pretty raw," said long-time manager Rex Dawkins. "It was the middle of winter, cold and wet and he struggled to make an impression."

The door closed for four more years, until he featured for Auckland City in the 2013 Club World Cup in Morocco.

"He scored that goal [against Raja Casablanca] and the phone started ringing," said Hawkins. "Ernie [Merrick] had been tracking him for a while and it was the right place, right time, as Paul Ifill got injured."

But the Fijian still needed to prove himself. Benjamin Totori didn't work out at the Phoenix and Krishna was only the third player from the Islands to come to the A-League.

"It took a while to feel like I belonged but I feel part of the family now," said Krishna. "I feel like I am at home. And maybe one of the veterans now I have played more than 50 games."

Last season was disrupted by a serious ankle injury, after he had netted six goals in 10 matches at one point. During the 2014/15 campaign he averaged a goal almost every two games as well as four assists.

Many of his strikes have been memorable; the 25 yard bullet in Newcastle, the left-footed winner in Perth, the finish from an impossible angle at North Harbour Stadium, the slashing strike at Eden Park and the 90th-minute penalty against Sydney last season.

In August, he captained Fiji in their historic tilt at the Olympic Games, when his goal took an unlikely lead against Mexico.

"It's something I will carry my whole life," said Krishna. "To score a goal in Rio is something not too many people from this part of the world get to do. Hopefully in the future, if we get our grassroots right, we will be hard to beat in the Oceania region."

Krishna will be a key focus today against Sydney FC, part of a dream Phoenix attacking quintet who have yet to click this season.

"We need a bit of luck. We have had plenty of possession and we just haven't been creating opportunities," he said. "We need to wait for our time and hopefully it is this week."

- Herald on Sunday

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