Herbert gives his team the thumbs-up

WELLINGTON Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert has given his squad a big thumbs up following the club’s three-match tour to China and Australia.

WELLINGTON Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert has given his squad a big thumbs up following the club-s three-match tour to China and Australia.

After two excellent performances against Chinese Super League sides Tianjin Teda (2-2) and Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals (a 3-2 loss) in China, the Phoenix recorded a goalless draw in their final tour match against Hyundai A-League rivals the Central Coast Mariners in Dubbo on Saturday night.

With the Phoenix to kick off their Hyundai A-League 2009/10 campaign away to the Newcastle Jets on August 9, the whirlwind international tour was a great opportunity for the Wellingtonians to not only test themselves against quality opposition but also to get a taste of the demanding travel schedule the season ahead promises.

Herbert said the Mariners presented a very different challenge to that offered by the Chinese sides.

“It was a good match for us to have,” he said from Australia. “The Mariners are a very direct, physical side as opposed to the quick, technical nature of the Chinese clubs. The whole trip was a great chance for us to experience the best of both worlds, really.”

While the poor condition of the Dubbo surface negated free-flowing football from both sides, the Phoenix and the Mariners offered up an entertaining match with good chances created by both sides.

Herbert, forced into making some late changes to his squad as a result of illness in the camp, was particularly pleased with his side-s efforts in soaking up pressure and applying its own against the Mariners.

“From front to back I think it was a very good team effort,” he said. “While getting a result wasn-t necessarily what this match was all about, we created some good chances that on another day we might have converted. But most importantly we kept a clean sheet and the defensive effort was extremely solid.”

The Phoenix were lacking their creative maestros in midfield, with Brazilian playmakers Diego Walsh and Daniel, plus young tyro Marco Rojas, all ruled out of the Dubbo match with illness. Diego-s illness was considered sufficiently serious enough for him to be sent home early from the tour.

“But, most importantly, we-ve come through the trip with no injuries and everyone has had a good amount of time on the pitch,” Herbert said.

“Guys like Costa Barbarouses and Vinnie Lia probably haven-t had as much game-time as we would have liked in recent times, but they got to see some decent action in Dubbo.

“From that perspective the trip has been an enormous success and exactly what we needed to get prepared for the season. Sure, we did a lot travelling and the guys were pretty tired towards the end of the trip particularly, but there-s no substitute for competitive games against competitive opposition and I-m very pleased with how we are placed at this point of the season.”

The Phoenix will enjoy a well-deserved short break before ripping back into training on Thursday ahead of the Newcastle match. It is expected that the club-s new star signing, former English Premier League and Championship striker Paul Ifill, will arrive in the New Zealand capital on Wednesday with a view to taking part at training this week.