WELLINGTON Phoenix FC is heading to Australia high on confidence despite a narrow loss in a pre-season tour match in China overnight.
The Phoenix were beaten 3-2 by Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals in Changsha, with British striker Chris Greenacre scoring his first goal in Phoenix colours and captain Andrew Durante also getting on the scoresheet.
The loss came after the Phoenix-s 2-2 draw with Tianjin Teda in the opening match of their two-match visit to China. The Phoenix now head to Australia for their final pre-season match against Hyundai A-League rivals the Central Coast Mariners in Dubbo on Saturday.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert again used the match against Guangzhou to give all members of his squad some game time, with two trial strikers – Brazilian Anderson Potty and Chinese under-23 international Jiang Chen – also taking part.
“Overall, it was a good opportunity for us to take a close look at the two triallists in a game context against very competitive opposition,” Herbert said. “Jiang, in particular, was very good and showed he definitely has the potential to do well in the Hyundai A-League.”
The final pieces of the recruitment jigsaw are slotting into place, with confirmation yesterday that former Millwall, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace striker Paul Ifill would join the Phoenix on a two-year deal starting with the 2009/10 campaign.
With 19 players now on the Phoenix-s books, the Wellington club has plenty of wriggle room to find another quality striker and still leave spots option for additional players as required. The maximum number of players clubs can have in the Hyundai A-League is 23.
“I-ll be having discussions with (Phoenix chief executive) Tony Pignata and (chairman) Terry Serepisos during the next few days with a view to making some decisions,” Herbert said.
As they did against Tianjin Teda, the Phoenix again showed their quality and promise throughout the 90 minutes against Guangzhou. After going 1-0 down on the 30-minute mark, the Phoenix hit back after the break when former Tranmere Rovers marksman Greenacre scored his first goal for the Phoenix in the 56th minute. Troy Hearfield seemed to have given the Phoenix the lead not long after but the goal was disallowed, the referee ruling that Diego-s swinging corner had gone out of play before Hearfield-s successful strike.
It was Guangzhou that snatched the lead back, capitalising on a mistake by young Phoenix keeper Reece Crowther from a free kick. However, the Phoenix continued to show excellent endeavour and were rewarded when skipper Durante nodded in Costa Barbarouses- cross to level the scores in the 81st minute.
With time almost up, Guangzhou secured the win with a goal scored from an unstoppable free kick.
Herbert was thrilled with the effort of his team and the progress made in the lead-up to the Phoenix-s opening game of the Hyundai A-League 2009/10 campaign against the Newcastle Jets in Newcastle on August 9.
“Everyone has got some time on the field and everyone has performed extremely well,” he said. “Overall, the trip has been sensational – the conditions and the opposition have been challenging but we-ve been scoring goals and playing well. I-m also very pleased to see Chris score his first goal for the club. Things bode very well for the season.”
The Phoenix depart China on Thursday ahead of Saturday-s game against the Mariners in Dubbo.
GUANGZHOU PHARMACEUTICALS v WELLINGTON PHOENIX
(30-, 68-, 88-)
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Chris Greenacre 56-, Andrew Durante 81-)