Durante: Writing us off? Don’t bet on it…

THE bookies don’t rate the Wellington Phoenix to be in the reckoning come playoffs time in the Hyundai A-League 2009/10 – and club skipper Andrew Durante couldn’t be happier.

THE bookies don-t rate the Wellington Phoenix to be in the reckoning come playoffs time in the Hyundai A-League 2009/10 – and club skipper Andrew Durante couldn-t be happier.

Just a couple of days out from their campaign opener away to the Newcastle Jets on Sunday, Durante says murmurings about the Phoenix-s chances this season are off the mark.

He acknowledges the fifth season of the competition will be closer than ever, with the addition of Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury, but adds that the Phoenix-s chances this campaign look extremely promising.

“We-re very confident,” Durante said. “We-ve got the core of last season-s squad, we very comfortable with each other, and the addition of (strikers) Paul Ifill, Chris Greenacre and (midfielder) Diego makes us very strong.

“It-s very hard to pick the competition this year. Obviously all the squads are strong in season five of the comp and any team can beat any other on the day – as we saw with the Central Coast Mariners knocking over Melbourne Victory. I mean, who would have picked that?

“So with so many ‘experts- are writing us off early, it-s crazy. Inside the squad we know we-ve got a very good team and we-re going to take pleasure in proving a lot of people wrong.”

With the loss of Smeltz, the club-s leading scorer in the Phoenix-s first two seasons in the Hyundai A-League, the pundits have weighed in on the Phoenix-s strikeforce recruitment this season.

Although both Ifill, who has played English Premier League and Championship football with Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and Millwall, and Greenacre, a proven goalscorer in League One with Tranmere Rovers, have proven striking pedigrees, many pundits doubt the Phoenix-s ability to put the ball in the back of the net.

Durante says those doubts only serve to reinforce the Phoenix-s resolve.

“We could sign Fernando Torres and the bookies would probably still pick us to come last. The boys pay no attention to any of these predictions. As I say, all it does is give us motivation to shut a few people up.”

Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert agreed that this year-s competition would be tight.

“It-s always been a difficult comp to pick and some people have made some pretty bold predictions about how this season will go. I guess we-ll see at the end of the year.”

First and foremost is the Phoenix-s season opener against the Jets.

Herbert has the luxury of a fully fit squad to choose from for the match at EnergyAustralia Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

“The first one up is always going to be tough but we-ve worked hard and, like every other club, we-re just keen the get the first match under our belts. The league-s come alive now and we-re looking forward to it. I-m confident we-ve got the side that can go to Newcastle and get three points.”

Herbert said Ifill and Greenacre were likely to start against the Jets in a two-pronged attack.

“They-re yet to have a decent hit-out together, so the sooner we get them working in tandem the better.”

The Phoenix have a settled back four in Manny Muscat, Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead and Durante, but a wealth of options in midfield.

“Being away from home might shape our thinking around the midfield but it-s going to be competitive in there and tough to make those final decisions,” said Herbert. “We-re not going to be overly cautious and we-re certainly going across with the intent to play to win the match.”

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. DIEGO, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (c).