Cavalry arrives to bolster Phoenix

WELLINGTON Phoenix’s FC’s decision to send reinforcements to Australia has proved a good one, with midfielder Leilei Gao and skipper and defender Andrew Durante ruled out of Friday’s night’s Hyundai A-League 2008/09 round 11 match against Sydney FC.

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC-s decision to send reinforcements to Australia has proved a good one, with midfielder Leilei Gao and skipper and defender Andrew Durante ruled out of Friday night-s Hyundai A-League 2008/09 round 11 match against Sydney FC.

With the team rounding out a gruelling 10-day away trip that began in Perth and culminates in Friday-s match at the Sydney Football Stadium, head coach Ricki Herbert opted to send for midfielder Troy Hearfield and defender Manny Muscat following Sunday-s disappointing 2-0 loss to Perth Glory in Perth.

Hearfield and Muscat will almost certainly have roles to play against Sydney FC, with Gao ruled out with a calf injury and Durante hampered by a hamstring problem – injuries both players sustained against Perth.

The injuries have forced some positional tweaking, with Ben Sigmund likely to slot into centre back alongside Karl Dodd and Muscat filling in at right back. Defensive midfielder Jon McKain is also an option in the back four mix. Gao-s playmaking midfield position could be covered by Daniel, Michael Ferrante or Hearfield, though the latter may be used further up as Herbert seeks to bolster his attacking options.

Missing Friday night-s match is a particular blow for Durante, who was set to make his 50th Hyundai A-League appearance.

“Yeah, it would-ve been perfect, really,” he said. “My family are coming to the game and it would have been nice to have achieved the 50-game milestone in front of them. But it-s not to be. The good thing, I guess, is that hopefully I-ll get to play my 50th game at home in Wellington against Newcastle [on November 23].”

Stung by last weekend-s lacklustre loss in Perth, Durante said the Phoenix had been working hard on their attacking and defensive formations during training at their base in Campbelltown.

“And we-ve also been putting the onus on improving our set-pieces. We-ve been struggling to score goals from open play so getting the set-pieces right is crucial – that means quality delivery from free kicks and corners and better decision-making when we have those sorts of opportunities.”

The Phoenix head into Friday night-s match labelled as Sydney FC-s bogey team, the Wellington outfit having had the wood on the Hyundai A-League-s glamour boys in several past meetings, including a gutsy 2-1 win at Westpac Stadium in round six.

“We have had some good results against them but we won-t be going into the game thinking it should be easy or that we’re their bogey team,” Durante said. “We-ve got a bit of confidence against them but they-ll be wary of us and they-ll punish us if we don-t front up. But we-ll certainly be going into it with no fear.”

While the loss to the Glory had been a tough one for the team to take, Durante said his teammates had responded well to some serious introspection.

“Obviously for a couple of days after we were still hurting but we had a really good team meeting and everyone had a say about why they felt the team wasn-t performing consistently well enough.

“What we all felt was that we let ourselves down because not enough players were giving their everything. You can sometimes you can get away with two or three players not having good matches but more often than not we-ve had situations where six or seven players haven-t been up to scratch.

“It was good to hear such honesty from the players and coaching staff and everyone took the responsibility onboard. There were a few more smiles on the boys- faces after that, so that-s a good thing.”

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Vaughan COVENY, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 23. Costa BARBAROUSES, 25. Manny MUSCAT.

In: 13. Troy HEARFIELD (promoted), 25. Manny MUSCAT (promoted)
Out: 21. Leilei GAO (calf – 1 week), 22. Andrew DURANTE (hamstring – 1week)
Unavailable: 17. Vince LIA (knee – season).