Wellington Phoenix captain Steven Taylor believes his team will evolve into a superior unit than last season's squad — and thinks they are already playing "better football" than they did under former coach Mark Rudan.
The Phoenix, who face Western Sydney Wanderers at Eden Park in Auckland tomorrow, endured a frustrating start to this campaign, with four consecutive losses and some patchy performances.
But they've claimed seven points from their last three games, amid signs they have started to turn the corner, and Sunday's 2-1 win in Adelaide was their best performance of the season.
Taylor's claim will turn some heads, given Rudan oversaw a club record nine-game unbeaten run between early December and late January and took them to fourth on the A-League ladder for a month late in the season.
He also had the luxury of Roy Krishna and David Williams up front, Sarpreet Singh in midfield and the experience of Andrew Durante, players who have all since departed.
"We drew a lot of games last year, games that we thought we were dead, but we found a way to win," said Taylor. "We [also] had Roy Krishna, who could pull something out of nowhere.
"But this [season] we have a lot of players who can come and deliver. We are playing better football this year, more controlled and especially dominating possession.
"Going to Adelaide and outplaying them, we caused them problems all over the park and it has been a while since the Phoenix have done that."
Taylor is a natural optimist but is adamant something special is building in Wellington.
"If you look at [our] possession, the way we are structured," said Taylor. "Last season, [we] played very risky football but we found a way to win. We had a lot of fight and managed to get the results."
"But this [season] we are more possession-based, a bit more structured and we are taking a lot of games to [other] teams. The perfect example was the Adelaide game and the Sydney game in the second half."
Taylor has adapted well to wearing the armband, despite the large shadow Durante left.
"Nothing changed for me," said Taylor. "I come in every day and lead on and off the pitch in training. It has been the same since I left school at 16 years old. That's the character I bring to the football club. I'm a loud, hyper kind of guy around the place and I first and foremost have to do the job on the pitch and the guys will follow."
Taylor sat out the second half of yesterday's training at Eden Park with a quad strain, but is expected to play tomorrow.
"He felt his quad a little bit so we just pulled him out," explained coach Ufuk Talay. "It's just precautionary. He'll be fine. He's a machine."
But Louis Fenton (shoulder) won't be involved, meaning Tim Payne gets another chance to impress on the right side of defence, while marquee striker Gary Hooper will be an option off the bench.
Talay and Taylor are confident of another memorable night in Auckland, after February's record attendance of 23,648. "It was an amazing night and hopefully we will get that on Saturday again," said Taylor.
"Auckland is [a big market] for us," added Talay. "We are hoping and expecting that our fans will come out and support us on the weekend, we think we will get a good turnout."