The ability to win ugly is a trait often credited to a champion or a champion team. It is underlined by resolve and good fortune. It is tough for most teams to win when they are far from their best, let alone when they are close to their worst. The Wellington Phoenix struggled throughout April taking just four points from a final 15 available. With the season on the line tomorrow, there is no better time to turn it around.
Ahead of an elimination clash with Melbourne City on Sunday, Wellington midfielder Roly Bonevacia said, “It doesn't matter how you win, if you win. That’s the most important thing now.”
“It doesn't matter how ugly or terrible it is – long balls – people can say whatever they want. It doesn't matter.”
Though Bonevacia is right, that at this end of the season, the result is more important than the performance, comments like these are a worry. It is one thing to think that way and another to play like it. Winning ugly is something that can only be done on the day, once a team is truly up against not only their opponents, but also themselves.
There are two problems with the approach coming out of Wellington this week. One, they are not yet a champion team. And two, winning ugly should be a last resort. By all means be prepared to win ugly, but do not set out to win that way.
Wellington have come this far by playing a particular style of football. It is excitingly attacking and refreshingly free-flowing. To abandon that style of play is risky. In their last five fixtures, Wellington have conceded eight first half goals. That is too many to be truly competitive. There is only so much fighting and scrapping one team can do. A first half without conceding would go a long way to progressing, but parking the bus is not the answer.
If Wellington need a blueprint, they should look no further than their encounter with Melbourne City in November. City looked odds on to open the scoring, but Wellington held on before both Nathan Burns and Bonevacia scored before the break. 45 minutes later, the game ended 5-1. Burns scored Wellington’s first hat trick and Roy Krishna also scored a screamer. Sure it is easy to say ‘play like you did when you won 5-1’, but they were allowed to attack because they had soaked up initial pressure.
Teams that win ugly build throughout a match. Though they might not have an equal share of possession, they scrap to keep the game level, hold on to the ball when they do have it and counter-attack menacingly. They take their opportunities and find a way to hold on. That is how a team wins ugly. That is what Wellington must do.