In straying from a Wellington Phoenix ritual in the last 10 minutes of the game, the Yellow Fever brigade should be commended for metaphorically keeping on their shirts so far this summer.

A fifth place in the Hyundai A-League, after an ominously sluggish start to their season, the Nix fans could have been excused for undressing to stave off the heat but new coach Mark Rudan is beginning to find a degree of cohesiveness and an improved sense of individual ownership of roles on the park.

While that incremental gain is reason to rejoice into the festive season, it will pay not to be swept away in the effervescent tide of euphoria that some are trying to ride.
It isn't that I don't subscribe to the gospel of the "Parish of Positivism" but more a case of belonging to the "Cult of Realism" based on sound observations that victories tend to eclipse.

The biggest burning issue (excuse the pun) for me is what on Earth the franchise team need to do with Nathan Burns?


Rudan's reluctance to deal with an out-of-form Burns is becoming increasingly painful, dare I say, more for the player than anyone else.

I mean the 30-year-old Aussie hasn't scored a goal in 27 consecutive outings since his return to the fold in January.

If the midfielder/striker got rusty in Japan the previous year and found former coach Darije Kalezic's bunker mentality a turn off then he certainly hasn't had any impediments under Rudan's reign.

In defence of foragers, scoring shouldn't be the primary yardstick when they can display the admirable qualities of mutating into hunters and collectors to enable those more adept at finding the net.

Burns, after all, is no mug. He won the Johnny Warren Medal for best player in the A-League in his stint with the Phoenix in 2014-15.

Regrettably the former Socceroo has offered deft touches this summer but they have been few and far apart for someone who had benefited immensely from Roy Krishna's clinical passes to bag 13 goals in 24 appearances, including a historic first Phoenix player to nail a hattrick, in the A-League.

But the sensible boot is on Krishna's feet now and Burns isn't able to reciprocate on the burden of previous expectations.

Frankly he has missed one-on-one sitters from point-blank range.


Damningly Burns has butchered passes gift-wrapped with goals. He often tries to take on defenders when a simple pass and move to a space to regather is all that's required.

No doubt Burns is an infectiously likeable bloke. Good players don't go bad — they simply lose their mojo.

Phoenix coach Mark Rudan will enjoy the festivities for a couple of days but he's got a few hard calls to make with Melbourne Victory looming on Friday. Photo/Photosport
Phoenix coach Mark Rudan will enjoy the festivities for a couple of days but he's got a few hard calls to make with Melbourne Victory looming on Friday. Photo/Photosport

For that reason Rudan needs to be cruel to be kind to his blast from the past. Drop him to the Wellington Phoenix Reserves squad so he can rediscover the thrill of scoring in the ISPS Handa Premiership.

That aside, Andrew Durante and his men still have a fair way to go. Four goals against the ninth-placed Brisbane Roar in a 10-team league is par for course but conceding a soft goal isn't. For every goal (13) scored the defence has almost matched with leaks (12).

As soul soothing as it is to be in the top six, the goal differences of next opponents Melbourne Victory (11) and Perth Glory (7) are the quality control standards.
Talk of Sarpreet Singh coming of age also is myopic.

No one disputes Singh's talent although not everyone can claim to have recognised the play maker 's talent early enough.

Rudan found out smartly when he benched Singh and fellow teenager Liberato Cacace against Adelaide United with a disastrous 3-1 result.

But Singh has greater qualities than trying to curl a freekick through a suspect two-man wall or having the temerity to dribble the ball through the rib of the Roar defence only to stumble through a goal-scoring pass to bench boy David Williams.

He needs only to look at Krishna to grow as a player. The greatest quality of Krishna is his ability to spy a free teammate even before he receives the ball to pass it with pinpoint accuracy most times.

Singh's most potent attribute is his ability to thread passes to put Krishna in full cry of the goal mouth so he not only needs to cultivate that but also swiftly recognise who is the best player to score.

To be honest, the Phoenix midfield wasn't all there against Roar and a repeat against quality opposition will expose them because Rudan's obvious long-ball escape clause will be rendered useless.

The give-it-to-Krishna and she'll be all right tactic will be countered sooner or later although the chances are defenders will keep hacking him towards the A & E Department foyer.

While Burn's pangs of selfishness is understandable in trying to throw the monkey off his back, the likes of Singh and Cacace need only watch what Louis Fenton and Tom Doyle do with crosses into the stock exchange area before any urges to pull the trigger.

Ditto Williams, another 30-year-old Aussie, who I feel should be starting and Burns coming off the bench, because every time he runs on in the dying minutes he brings a level of enthusiasm and impetus that lifts the exhausted attackers.

How valuable would promising homegrown midfielders of the ilk of Logan Rogerson and James McGarry be now to the Wellington franchise.

Unfortunately the talented young duo have fallen through the cracks of football bureaucracy when they could have been prospering alongside Singh and Cacace in helping reinforce the Kiwi brand in an Aussie competition.

Either way, the ball is now in Rudan's court to keep the bubbly frothing into the new year.