Football: Kit drama just another variable in Wellington Phoenix march to A-League dominance

As Wellington Phoenix opened up a luxurious five-point advantage atop the A-League table, player-of-the-match honours should probably go to the man who ensured their home fixture against Western United could take place at all.

Kickoff at Sky Stadium was delayed 15 minutes, when match officials discovered the two teams were about to line up in clashing dark strips. Convention dictates the visiting team should switch to alternate jerseys, but the Melbourne-based outfit hadn't packed theirs.

Instead, Phoenix equipment manager Jack Mapp made a mercy dash up State Highway Two to retrieve a fresh set of shirts from their Upper Hutt base and the match proceeded a little late, but with a minimum of fuss, resulting in a 2-0 Phoenix win.

Western United and Wellington Phoenix finally take the pitch at Sky Stadium.
Western United and Wellington Phoenix finally take the pitch at Sky Stadium. Photo credit: Photosport

If Wellington coach Giancarlo Italiano is looking for a metaphor for his team's breakthrough season in the trans-Tasman competition, Mapp's heroics serve as a reminder of the many little factors that go into a winning campaign.  

Italiano is famous for his superstitious approach to the game. Apparently, he throws away shirts worn during Phoenix defeats, but the late switch of playing jerseys couldn't faze him or his team.

"Last season, same scenario, but the other way round," he reflected. "It worked in reverse this time, so superstition worked.

"Right after the team talk, there was talk of delaying, and making sure there was enough time for Jack to get to Upper Hutt and come back.

"What's the worst that could happen, they delay it for another 15? That's fine.

"He does a good job of working to a timeline, so just another day in the office."

The scramble for uniforms saw Blugarian Bozhidar Kraev take the field with No.49 on his back, not his accustomed No.11.

"It was OK, because I like 4 also," he insisted. "It bring me luck, we won... perfect."

The delay didn't affect seem to affect the Phoenix, who responded with a Nicholas Pennington goal in the third minute and then another soon after the second-half resumption.

"We've really tried to work on starting better," reflected captain Alex Rufer. "Thoughout the season, we've started halves slowly, so we've really worked on starting better and we did that tonight.

"In the previous games, we've done that too, so as long as we keep starting like that, we'll finish games really well." 

Despite a niggly encounter with a bottom-of-the-table team - their third game in eight days - the Phoenix were clinical in legendary windy Wellington conditions.

"Winning the competition, there are so many variables, not only long term, but short term," said Italiano. "Making sure you have a fit squad, making sure you have cohesion, making sure group culture is alive and good... there's a lot of things that factor in.

"Sometimes, it can just be a little bit of luck... you get a bad referee call or whatever it is that can change momentum very, very quickly."

Even something small like ensuring you have the right kit.

Nicholas Pennington celebrates his goal against Western United.
Nicholas Pennington celebrates his goal against Western United. Photo credit: Photosport

"The one thing we can control is our performances, week in and week out, and that's what we stick to. If we get to May and we get to that last game, the boys deserve it, and if we don't, they still deserve all the applauds they're getting at the moment."

On the other side of the coin, Western United might also regard the jersey snafu as symptomatic of their season, which sees them dead stony last with two wins from 15 games and eight points behind their nearest rivals on the table.

"It doesn't fall on me, but it's part of us as a club," said coach John Aloisi. "We made a mistake, I think, but I don't know for sure... not sure what happened there."

While nearest pursuers Central Coast Mariners now sit five points behind the Phoenix, Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney (two) both have games in hand, and can close within three points with wins in those outstanding fixtures.