Durante and Fred set for takeoff

ANDREW DURANTE stands to mark a significant career milestone this Sunday – but he’s got to get on the field first.

ANDREW DURANTE stands to mark a significant career milestone this Sunday – but he-s got to get on the field first.

The Wellington Phoenix skipper will make his 50th Hyundai A-League appearance this weekend if he gets on the Westpac Stadium pitch to face his old teammates, the Newcastle Jets.

Durante was set to achieve the milestone against Sydney FC two weeks ago but a hamstring injury kept him out of the match, ultimately won 2-1 by the Phoenix at the Sydney Football Stadium.

Given the team-s superb performance against Sydney FC, central defender Durante recognises he-s got a fight on his hands to secure a spot in the squad for Sunday-s match against the team he led to the Hyundai A-League championship in 2008.

“Hopefully I do play this weekend, but there-s no guarantee of that given how well the boys went without me in Sydney,” said the 2008 Joe Marston Medal winner.

“There-s healthy competition for places in the squad and I guess it-s a good headache for [head coach] Ricki [Herbert] to have. The defence was solid against Sydney with Manny Muscat, Ben Sigmund, Karl Dodd and Tony Lochhead doing really well. But if Ricki does choose to put me in then I-ll give my all, as I do in every game.

“I-ve trained well this week and I-m feeling good, so I-m hopeful of making the team for Sunday. To play my 50th match will be a special occasion and to do it against my old club will make it extra special.”

There has been huge interest in the arrival of Fred – the former Melbourne Victory superstar signed by the Phoenix for a six-game guest player stint, starting with Sunday-s match against the Jets.

Durante said the immediate impact of the talented attacking midfielder had been a fillip for the Phoenix.

“It-s been a huge week for the club and signing someone of Fred-s quality will be a huge boost for us and our top-four aspirations. He-s got the Brazilian flair but he-s also very much a team player and a guy who works very hard for, well, a Brazilian.

“He-s looking good and hopefully he brings that X-factor for us on Sunday.”

Although Jets coach Gary van Egmond will watch the match from the stand as he serves out a two-match suspension after an incident in Perth two weeks ago, the Jets have an experienced lineup that will be tough.

Durante said the Phoenix would not be underestimating the threat posed by the Jets.

“It-s not a matter of singling out anything in particular but obviously [Jets striker] Joel Griffiths will be a danger and we-ll really need to stop him. They-ll be fired up because they-ve copped a lot of stick in the press over there about how they-ve been performing, so they-ll want to come out and give us a good run for our money.”

Key for the Phoenix in the coming weeks will be improving on their disappointing record at their home ground, Westpac Stadium. With four out of their next five matches in Wellington, the Phoenix will be looking to vastly improve on their strike rate – particularly with Fred in the lineup for six games.

“For whatever reason we-ve struggled at home, like a few clubs in the comp this season,” Durante said. “We-ve spoken about it and we agreed that we probably need to relax a bit and express ourselves a bit more when we play at home. It-s a case of not going into our shells, so at training this week we-ve concentrated on just going out there and playing good football.”

The addition of Fred – who will start the match – could make the difference, Durante believed.

“He-ll add a lot more fluency and help bring the midfield and defence into attack, hopefully creating more chances for guys like Shane Smeltz and Leo Bertos up front.”

Sunday-s match kicks off at 6pm (NZDT).

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), 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain), 23. Costa BARBAROUSES, 25. Manny MUSCAT, 27. FRED. * two to be omitted

In: 22. Andrew DURANTE (return from injury), 27. FRED (new signing).
Out: Nil.
Unavailable: 17. Vince LIA (knee – season).

Newcastle Jets squad: 1. Ante COVIC (gk), 2. Adam GRIFFITHS, 3. Jade NORTH (c), 5. James HOLLAND, 6. Jesper HAKANSSON, 8. Matt THOMPSON, 9. Joel GRIFFITHS, 10. Jin-Hyung SONG, 11. Tarek ELRICH, 12. Jobe WHEELHOUSE, 13. Adam D-APUZZO, 14. Shaun ONTONG, 16. Ben KANTAROVSKI, 19. Jason NAIDOVSKI, 20. Ben KENNEDY (gk), 24. Marko JESIC, 26. Mark MILLIGAN. *two to be omitted

In: 5. James HOLLAND (returns from international duties), 6. Jesper HAKANSSON, 16. Ben KANTAROVSKI (returns from international duties), 24. Marko JESIC (returns from international duties), 19. Jason NAIDOVSKI (returns from international duties)
Out: 7. Kaz PATAFTA, 27. Jesse PINTO, 25. Daniel PIORKOWSKI (end of contract)
Unavailable: 15. Jason HOFFMAN (knee – season),18. Noel SPENCER (ankle – indefinite)

*Head-to-head: All matches (played 4): Wellington Phoenix wins 1, Newcastle Jets wins 2 (1 draw). In Wellington (played 1): Wellington Phoenix wins 0, Newcastle Jets wins 1 (0 draws).