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Mar 10, 2012

Phoenix rising in home A-L final bid

Call them unfashionable, but unlike some sharply-dressed A-League impostors, the Wellington Phoenix will fit beautifully into the A-League finals.

For the third season running, the Phoenix look set to make the playoffs.

And with a home final within their reach, Wellington have the potential to make a real impact.

A 1-1 away draw with Melbourne Heart on Saturday virtually locks up their finals place, albeit after coach Ricki Herbert had to remind his players to lift following a lacklustre first half.

Yet the manner of their fightback to snatch a late equaliser perhaps told more about the team than any emphatic victory.

The Phoenix are no-frills, and proud of it.

A season which started with uncertainty over the Phoenix's future because of owner Terry Serepisos' tax issues before new local ownership rescued the club, could end in the ultimate prize.

The Phoenix have been ultra-consistent, are regularly scoring goals from a variety of sources, have learned to win away from home and in Paul Ifill boast the most influential attacker in the competition.

Herbert says the secret is the Phoenix know where they've come from, and have confidence in where they're going.

"We're in the six. That's three years in a row and some of the glamour clubs aren't even going to be close to it this year," Herbert said.

"It's not about big budgets. It's about attracting the best that you've got, and we've got some good players who've been resilient through some very rough times.

"We're 40 points, we're scoring goals, we're a tough side to beat, we're still third, and who knows where we could finish?

"I can't heap enough praise on this team. We've had a few blips through the year, but not as many as some have."

Ifill said a home final would be an ideal way to start a playoff campaign, but the team's improved away form this season gave them renewed hope of going deep into the finals.

"You look at the stats, you look at our home record, and we've got to aim for (a home final)," Ifill said.

"But we've done okay on the road this year.

"We've worked at that. And if we're going to make it further than that, at some point we're going to have to play away anyway.

"We're not winning games comfortably two or three-nil, but we're pretty hard to beat.

"Winning's what you need to do the business, and we're doing that quite regularly."

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