All Phoenix want for Christmas is win

IT’S a game with plenty at stake for the Wellington Phoenix and Saturday’s home pre-Christmas clash with the Newcastle Jets will be extra special for a few Phoenix players.

IT-S a game with plenty at stake for the Wellington Phoenix and Saturday-s home pre-Christmas clash with the Newcastle Jets will be extra special for a few Phoenix players.

Wellington midfielder Leo Bertos will play his 100th Hyundai A-League game and gun striker Paul Ifill his 50th, while highly regarded youngster Marco Rojas is set for his first start for the Phoenix, fittingly in front of his home crowd.

But milestones will count for nothing if the Phoenix can-t grab three vital competition points in what would be the perfect Christmas present for the club.

The Phoenix sit just outside the top six and know that they must launch the sort of run that saw them go within one win of the grand final last season. With the top four teams seemingly in the box seat to make the playoffs, the remainder are vying for the final two places. The fifth-placed Jets have three points and two games in hand over the Phoenix, meaning Saturday-s clash at Westpac Stadium is a pivotal one for the hosts.

“Every time we-ve played well we-ve picked up points,” said Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert. “So from a performance point of view it-ll be important to get that right and the boys know that with a good performance come the rewards.”

Both the Phoenix and Jets are facing personnel problems, with Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante and his Jets counterpart Ljubo Milicevic ruled out of Saturday-s match by suspension. Both clubs also have key men ruled out through injury, notably goalkeeper Mark Paston for the hosts.

Paston suffered a fracture to his knee in the Phoenix-s 2-0 loss to Gold Coast United last weekend and will miss the rest of the season. However, in Danny Vukovic the Phoenix have a fantastic replacement in goal.

Paston was ruled out with an almost identical injury at the same time last season – the Phoenix then going on to make the preliminary final after a sensational run of results.

Herbert acknowledged the irony.

“It-s an interesting case of déjà vu, certainly. This has been a different type of season for us – good and bad – but there-s still 30 points up for grabs and Saturday is a big one for us.”

The suspension of Durante means a reshuffle for the back four, with Ben Sigmund returning to centre back alongside Jade North after playing several matches at fullback.

Tim Brown, who will overtake Tony Lochhead as the most capped Phoenix player with 75 matches, will wear the captain-s armband in Durante-s absence on Saturday.

Manny Muscat drops into left back, allowing Herbert to mix things up in midfield, notably by giving Rojas a start as reward for the youngster-s impressive appearances off the bench in recent weeks. The inclusion of Rojas and Bertos is indicative of Herbert-s attacking intent, though he is yet to make a final decision on the composition of the front line and the options on the bench.

While there is an attacking edge, key for the Phoenix on Saturday will be denying the Jets- strikers opportunities.

Experienced Socceroos defender North – a Hyundai A-League championship winner with the Jets in 2008 – said that even without Durante the Phoenix had the players to do the job against Newcastle.

“There are plenty of leaders on the park and we-ve had that all season. I know that whoever comes in will do the job and we need 11 captains on the field.”

Wellington Phoenix v Newcastle Jets
Saturday, 18 December 2010
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Local kickoff:
7pm (5pm AEDT)
Referee: Jarred Gillett

Live and exclusive broadcast on FOX Sports 1, FS1 HD & Sky Sport 1 (NZ). A-League club broadcast partner is The Radio Network (Wellington) 1035AM and 1233 ABC Newcastle. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.co.nz

Wellington Phoenix: 2. Manny MUSCAT, 6. Tim BROWN (c), 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 11. DANIEL, 12. James MUSA, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Mirjan PAVLOVIC, 15. Jade NORTH, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 19. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 21. Marco ROJAS, 23. Dylan MACALLISTER
*one to be omitted*

In: James MUSA (promoted), Reece CROWTHER (promoted), Mirjan PAVLOVIC (promoted)
Out: Andrew DURANTE (suspended – 1 match), Mark PASTON (gk, knee – season)
Unavailable: Tony LOCHHEAD (groin – 1 week), Oscar Roberto CORNEJO (knee – 1 week), Nick WARD (knee – 3 weeks)

Newcastle Jets: 40. Matthew NASH (gk), 2. Taylor REGAN, 3. Adam D-APUZZO, 4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY, 11. Tarek ELRICH 13. Sasho PETROVSKI, 14. Labinot HALITI, 17. Marcello FIORENTINI, 18. Marko JESIC, 19. Ali ABASS, 22. Kaz PATAFTA 24. Francis JEFFERS, 27. Tomislav MISURA, 31. Jacob PEPPER, 26. James VIRGILI, 1. Ben KENNEDY
*one to be omitted*

In: 31. Jacob Pepper (promoted), 26. James Virgili (promoted), 27. Tomislav Misura (promoted), 1. Ben Kennedy (returns from injury)
Out: 9. Zhang SHUO (omitted), 5. Ljubo Milicevic (suspended – 1 week), 7. Kasey Wehrman (suspended – 1 week), 10. Ruben Zadkovich (injury – back)
Unavailable: Neil YOUNG (illness – indefinite), Michael Bridges (Knee – six weeks), Jeremy BROCKIE (Broken foot – 6 to 8 weeks), 5. Sean ROONEY (knee-season) 12. Jobe WHEELHOUSE (suspension), 6. Ben Kantarovski (knee – indefinite)

Head-to-Head: All matches (played 11): Wellington Phoenix wins 6, Newcastle Jets wins 4 (1 draw)