Imagine you'd been away for a while, not kept tabs on the A-League, then returned home for the season's latter stages and examined the table.
You'd be completely unsurprised by the top two. Central Coast and Brisbane are again the pacemakers and seem on a collision course for a home-and-away major semi-final tussle and, in all likelihood, a Grand Final re-match.
But as your eyes flicked down to take in the other sides currently occupying the top four spots, you'd be forgiven for a double-take when you saw the side in third place.
With their off-season ownership problems, almost non-existent recruitment and aging squad, practically every pundit had Phoenix not only outside the six, but with ownership of the wooden spoon come season's end. But with three regular season games remaining, only an utter catastrophe (three losses and results elsewhere going against them) would see Phoenix missing the playoffs.
How has this happened? How has the side that everyone picked to finish bottom reached the lofty heights of third in the league?
One thing they've cracked is winning away from home. Four victories in their last five away matches have been the springboard for Phoenix’s success since the turn of the year. Yes, those wins may all have been by just one goal and yes, they've been dominated for periods of all four games, but the twelve points gained are the difference between being third and planning for Mad Monday before March even finishes.
A strategy which seems to have worked well is staying in Australia for back-to-back away games. It worked in consecutive victories over Gold Coast and Newcastle and got them a win against Sydney after the loss to Central Coast. The same plan is being employed for their next two matches against the Melbourne franchises.
It makes perfect sense, of course. Why spend a day travelling home, unpack your bags, have maybe one training session, then pack up and jump back on a plane again? It's far smarter to stay put and avoid all the complications that travel brings with it.
The new owners have to be given credit, too. The Welnix consortium has provided a stable base from which the club can operate and while there haven't been flashy gestures or splashing of cash, money has been made available for things like the extended stays in Australia and marketing of home matches.
The expectations of the new owners have certainly been surpassed. They held no great hopes of playoff football when they took over; rather, they just wanted to keep the club afloat and look to the future. But the players, led by consistently excellent skipper Andrew Durante, had different ideas. They were never going to be content just plodding along collecting points here and there and making a nuisance of themselves to teams with genuine top-six aspirations. On the contrary, they've galvanised themselves into a highly competitive side which always had belief they could be involved in April, even if most others didn't think they would be.
Now they're in the playoff mix, making the top four is absolutely crucial to Phoenix. Even though travelling away doesn't hold the same fears as it once did, matches in Wellington are far preferable. Opposition teams still regard a trip to New Zealand's capital with trepidation and while the Ring of Fire isn't the impenetrable fortress is was during the 24-match unbeaten streak of two seasons ago, it's still very hard for visiting sides to get any change here. Phoenix will go into any elimination match in Wellington as favourites.
Of course, the final finishing position this season is far from certain. Looking up, the top two is still possible, but unlikely. The Mariners are too far clear and while Brisbane are catchable and may be distracted by their ACL campaign, you'd expect them to get enough points from their remaining three matches - two of which are against the bottom sides - to secure a top-two finish. Indeed, I’m sure they still harbour plans to usurp the Mariners and win the minor premiership again..
Looking down, the chasing pack is large in the rear-view mirror. Perth's run home looks slightly less daunting (although they do play two of the same sides as Phoenix in the last three games) while Melbourne Heart and Newcastle still harbour top four hopes. Saturday's match against Heart looms as crucial. A Phoenix win would almost certainly secure a top four finish, while even a draw would be handy, as it would keep Heart five points back with just two games to go.
And so, as the regular season enters its final month, Phoenix fans are highly likely to become members of an exclusive group. Barring a disaster of mammoth proportions, they’ll be the only set of supporters who will get to enjoy playoff football in the three most recent A-League seasons. Just how long and exciting the playoff run turns out to be may rest largely on what Phoenix can achieve over the next three weekends.