They may be out of the running for a top-four finish but the competitive streak in Wellington Phoenix boss Mark Rudan means Sunday’s clash with Perth Glory will be anything but a dead rubber.
And not least because of his relationship with Glory boss Tony Popovic.
Rudan and Popovic are close friends and former teammates, and the pair have done superb jobs in the first season at the helm of their respective clubs.
Rudan has transformed the Phoenix from perennial strugglers to Finals Series contenders this season, while Popovic has guided Glory to the Premiers Plate, the club’s maiden piece of Hyundai A-League silverware.
So while there’s still the usual three points on the line on Sunday night, Rudan would love nothing more than to get one over his good mate ‘Popa’.
“We’ve got very similar upbringings. We were brought up in the same sort of culture. We both have a Croatian background so both his father and mine are very similar in the way they brought us up and moulded us as human beings as well,” Rudan said ahead of Sunday night’s clash at HBF Park
“A lot of our values are the same. We played together for a number of years at two different clubs, we started our careers together at Sydney United, and at Sydney FC we sort of finished our careers.
“We get on really well, but we’re also extremely competitive.
As close as we are we still want to beat each other.”
Adelaide United’s 5-3 win over Brisbane Roar on Thursday means the Phoenix will either finish fifth or sixth, depending on their result and that of Melbourne City against Central Coast Mariners on Friday night.
Regardless, skipper Andrew Durante and midfielder Alex Rufer – both one yellow card away from a suspension – are likely to be rested for the Glory clash.
Star striker Roy Krishna – who sits two goals clear of Sydney FC’s Adam Le Fondre in the race for the Golden Boot – could also be kept on ice for next weekend’s Elimination Final.
"We'll decide on that when the time is right. We still have to work through a process and have a plan to get right,” Rudan said.
“There's certain components I was happy with and certain things we continue to work on irrespective of who plays.
"There's been a lot more planning into this week knowing we can do something a bit different on Sunday.”
Rudan hinted his squad would remain in Australia after Sunday's match against Perth to reduce the travel burden on the players.
Phoenix will either face Adelaide United or Melbourne Victory in their Elimination Final next weekend.