Before a spicy first-round A-League reunion, Wellington Phoenix chief David Dome has warned former coach Mark Rudan not to expect a happy homecoming from jaded fans.
And he's tipping new coach Ufuk Talay will draw a better Wellington crowd than Rudan ever managed for Sunday's bumper season-opener against new club Western United.
Rudan's contentious departure for Western in May - a season into a two-year deal - has lit the touchpaper for a fiery clash.
Wellington fans are entitled to be in two minds about the occasion.
On one hand, Rudan's free-scoring 'Nix set a new club record for goals last season, as they roared into the finals. On the other, the manner of his exit left a sour taste.
Rudan was linked to the the league's newest expansion club, after it was announced in December.
He confirmed the move in April amid four losses in his last five games as coach, the 'Nix's season of great promise amounting to a limp playoff capitulation to Melbourne Victory.
Dome says he understands fans might be skeptical of Rudan's stated reason for leaving Wellington.
"Mark made it clear why he left, why it was important, that it was a family decision," he told AAP. "The fans haven't bought it.
"And we've just gone 'It is what it is' and we've moved on."
Others have done the same. Long-serving Phoenix captain Andrew Durante, league goalkeeper of the year Filip Kurto and midfield talent Max Burgess all followed Rudan to Western.
Rudan denies suggestions he had a handshake deal with them at the Phoenix or that he was involved in those signings while still in Wellington.
Dome - who requested Western United as round-one opponent to bring Rudan back to Wellington - said the club was stewing about the "lost opportunity" of the last season.
"You can't pull your punches," he said. "We were a top-four team, and then rumours started circulating and the team started losing games.
"We were bitterly disappointed."
Until then, the club had hoped for a home semi-final.
"That's what the city wanted, that's what the commercial partners wanted and it's what the fans wanted," Dome said. "But by the end of the season, we just scraped in and then we had to go away."
If there's a positive for the Phoenix, it's that Rudan's return could deliver a bumper crowd on Sunday, after the club only broke the five-figure barrier once last season in the capital.
"We said we'd love Western United on the first game of the season and the football gods have delivered it up," Dome said. "It's a dream.
"I'd love nothing better than to put one over on the coach and the players that left us."