WELLINGTON Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert is set to stick with a winning formula when his team tackles the Queensland Roar in Wellington on Sunday.
Herbert indicated he was likely to start the same XI from last weekend-s 1-0 win against the Central Coast Mariners, with the only last-minute question mark over the makeup of his bench for the match at Westpac Stadium.
“We-ve had some good performances in the past three games and that-s been rewarded with consistency in the team. It-s hard to change things at the moment and that-s a positive sign given some of the dilemmas we had earlier in the season.”
Should the same starting XI from the win against the Mariners take the park against the Roar, it will be just the fifth time in the Phoenix-s 30 matches in the Hyundai A-League that the same starting lineup has backed up.
But, given the gutsy effort from the Phoenix in sweltering conditions in Gosford, it seems clear that Herbert will reward the players that performed so admirably.
That means the impressive Ben Sigmund will hold his spot at right back, alongside Gosford goal-scoring hero Karl Dodd and skipper Andrew Durante at the heart of the back four, with Tony Lochhead on the left.
Vice-captains Tim Brown and Jon McKain will again link in the defensive midfield role, with the attacking midfield impetus provided by Leilei Gao and Adam Kwasnik. Up front, Shane Smeltz will partner Vaughan Coveny.
Mark Paston, having seized his chance with injury to incumbent keeper Glen Moss, will again wear the gloves in the Phoenix goal.
“Things certainly won-t be too different to what we used on the Central Coast,” Herbert said. “It-s more a case of what players we-ll use off the bench. I give a lot of credit to the players that have come off the bench in the past three weeks because they-ve been integral in keeping the momentum or taking the game to a different level.
“It-s been a real collective approach and it-s a matter of making sure that the guys we bring on during the game can help either way, be it in terms of consolidating a game or chasing something from it.”
Herbert said competition for spots in the match-day squad had ramped up considerably.
“What we have is a group of players under-pinning the starting XI who are very keen and desperate to be a part of that XI. That-s a healthy position to be in. It puts pressure on the guys starting to make sure they-re maximising their chances while they-re on the pitch.”
The Phoenix head into Sunday-s match having equalled their longest unbeaten run to date. They got the ball rolling with a 2-1 home win against Sydney FC before drawing 2-2 with Newcastle and then beating the Mariners on the road.
As well as recording back-to-back victories for the first time in the club-s short history, a win on Sunday would be another major boost for the Phoenix as the Hyundai A-League pack starts to bunch up. The Phoenix are level on nine points with the Roar and can break into the top four with victory on Sunday.
“There-s only seven points separating top to bottom and Queensland will be tough, no doubt,” Herbert said. “We say this week in, week out – home or away, every opponent is a big challenge.”
Shutting down the Roar-s industrious midfield would be the key to securing three points, Herbert said.
“They-re strong in that area, very attacking and mobile, and they-ll hurt you if you-re not careful. But we-re confident, there-s good belief in the squad and it-s for us to take the initiative and take the game to them.”
Hyundai A-League 2008/09, round nine
Sunday, October 26
Wellington Phoenix v Queensland Roar
Local kick off 5pm NZDT (3pm AEDT)
Referee. Peter O-Leary
Live and exclusive broadcast on FOX Sports 3 and Sky Sport 1. Hyundai A-League club radio broadcast partner is Radio Network (Wellington) 1035AM .
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, 15. Adam KWASNIK, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 21. Leilei GAO, 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain).
Unavailable. 12. Richard JOHNSON (illness – 1 week), 17. Vince LIA (knee – season).
Queensland Roar Squad. 1. Liam REDDY (gk), 2. Andrew PACKER, 3. Josh McCLOUGHAN, 4.Craig MOORE, 6. David DODD, 7.Michael ZULLO, 8. Massimo MURDOCCA, 9. Sergio VAN DIJK, 10. Charlie MILLER, 11. REINALDO, 15. Matt McKAY, 18. Danny TIATTO, 20. Griffin McMASTER (gk), 23. Tim SMITS, 24. Matt MUNDY.
In. 6. David DODD (promoted), 9. Sergio VAN DIJK (return from injury), Matt MUNDY (short-term contract)
Out. 12. Tahj MINNIECON (international duty), 14. Ben GRIFFIN (injured), 16. Hyuk-Su SEO (injured)
Unavailable. 3. Luke DEVERE (international duty), 12. Tahj MINNIECON (international duty), 14. Ben GRIFFIN (injured), 16. Hyuk-Su SEO (injured), 17. Mitch NICHOLS (international duty), 19. Isaka CERNAK (international duty), 21. Tommy OAR (international duty), 22. Robbie KRUSE (injured).
* Head-to-head. All matches (played 4): Wellington Phoenix wins 0, Queensland Roar wins 2 (2 draws). In Wellington (played 2): Wellington Phoenix wins 0, Queensland Roar wins 0 (2 draws)