‘A tribute to the character of this team’ – Phoenix lauded for sparkling end to testing campaign

FOX Sports analyst Mark Bosnich says the past three seasons have shown Wellington Phoenix are on an upward trajectory after the seventh-placed finishers ended their 2020/21 A-League campaign with an emphatic 3-0 win over Macarthur FC on Friday night.

The Phoenix may not be playing Finals Series football this season, but the application shown by a displaced side going 433 days between games on home soil has proven to Bosnich – and neutral observes around the league – that under head coach Ufuk Talay Wellington are on the right track, and heading into an exciting future.

The Phoenix boss signed a fresh two-year contract with the club in May, joining a raft of Wellington players in committing to the Phoenix project for the years to come.

After falling one point short of a Finals Series berth having played the majority of the campaign at a home away from home in Wollongong, Bosnich says the character and spirit of the New Zealand side shone through on its final night in 2020/21 as brightly as it has for the majority of a brave campaign.

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“After witnessing a performance like that, the easiest thing for them to do would have been to throw the towel in tonight,” Bosnich said on FOX Sports post-match.

“Once again, it’s another tribute to the character of this team and this club.

Congratulations to them, because that was a wonderful performance tonight – and the only way really to finish off.

“I think I speak on behalf of not only the Wellington fans but a lot of fans, I would say the majority of fans here in Australia have witnessed a real turnaround, you have to say it was started off by (former head coach) Mark Rudan but taken to another level by Ufuk Talay.”

Talay has impressed in his first two seasons as Phoenix boss

Wellington’s late assault on the Finals Series standings came in tandem with the mid-season arrival of former captain and defensive talisman Steven Taylor.

The Englishman returned in March after plying his trade Odisha FC in the Indian Super League. Wellington lost just one of the 12 games Taylor played in the run home, including a pair of games at Sky Stadium and Eden Park in New Zealand (W1, D1) which produced a combined attendance of more than 46,000 fans.

Reflecting on the season after capping it off with a 3-0 win over the Bulls, Taylor said the club’s homecoming made him question what a difference a home crowd may have made from the start of the 2020/21 campaign.

“Credit to the lads, they pushed, they threw the kitchen sink every game,” Taylor said.

“It was a pleasure for me playing for them. Coming back for the final two months of the season, we hit some good form but I think the early part of the season is what’s cost us. 

“I’m sure we’ll obviously add a few quality players as well, but the main thing for the lads was obviously finishing the season strong, and I think the lads did a fantastic job.

From the moment I came in from India and went to WIN Stadium, there was no atmosphere there for the boys.

For the final push, when we went across to Wellington and you get that atmosphere, 24,000 fans there – that’s part and parcel of being a professional footballer, playing on the big stage in front of a crowd.

“A lot of our young lads especially, they haven’t had that. I think for them to experience it, it gives that bit more, it wets the lips a bit more.

I think (in) Aukland as well, cracking crowd and hopefully more next season.”

BELOW: Gallery – Packed crowd at Sky Stadium enjoy Phoenix homecoming