WELLINGTON Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert is understandably relieved about his team’s schedule in the coming month – three games out of the next four to be played out on home turf.
WELLINGTON Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert is understandably relieved about his team-s schedule in the coming month – three games out of the next four to be played out on home turf.
It-s been a tough couple of weeks for Herbert and the Phoenix-s jet-setting international contingent, with six key players taking part in World Cup qualifying matches on the other side of the world just days before the Wellington outfit-s 1-1 draw with North Queensland Fury on Saturday night.
The Phoenix-s scorer in Townsville, Tim Brown, and fellow All Whites Mark Paston, Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead and Leo Bertos all featured at Dairy Farmers Stadium less than a week after taking part in a World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain in Manama. Defender Manny Muscat was also busy, turning out for Malta in matches against Angola and Portugal in Europe before joining his club team in Townsville on the day of the match.
The onerous travel schedule clearly took a toll against the Fury, the Phoenix utterly dominant in the first half before some tired legs began to tell.
Brown put the visitors ahead in the sixth minute, nodding in a wonderful Paul Ifill cross. The Phoenix created several more excellent chances in the first stanza but were unable to convert – something they were left to rue late in the match when the fast-finishing Fury were allowed to dominate, eventually equalising through Robbie Fowler with six minutes left.
“I don’t think we really played well enough in the second half and North Queensland were deserving of their equaliser so it’s disappointing,” Brown said. “We’ve done a ton of travelling and my legs were starting to go in the second half, but that’s no excuse, that’s part of the job and North Queensland played well.”
The result earned the Phoenix a new – if somewhat unwanted – Hyundai A-League record, with six consecutive draws the longest run of stalemates in the competition-s history.
Herbert said it was clear his men faded in the second 45 in steamy Townsville after an excellent start.
“We ran out of steam and let ourselves get put under pressure, it-s as simple as that. It was tough for the guys who have been on international duty with all the travel they-ve had to do recently, but it-s fair to say we didn-t do more damage and put the Fury away when we should have.”
The Phoenix take on former star Shane Smeltz-s Gold Coast United at Westpac Stadium on Sunday in what will be a welcome return to home turf. The Phoenix follow that up with an away match to Sydney FC the following week before two more home games against the Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory.
“This week will be a good chance for us to get some of the guys freshened up,” Herbert said. “We need to get everyone back to the levels they need to be at and we-ve got some time this week to make a few decisions around some of them.”
One of those decisions will be regarding midfielder Daniel, who left the field with a knee injury on Saturday night. However, Herbert said the initial prognosis was good for the playmaker, with things looking “more favourable than not” in terms of his potential involvement against the Gold Coast.
But perhaps the biggest dilemma facing the Phoenix is how to turn their run of draws into wins.
“Nobody wants it (to win) more than the team,” Herbert said. “They-re working their arses off and there-s the belief that things will turn for us. These aren-t the sort of guys to give up, because we all know we-re playing well and dictating games – it-s just the way things seem to be panning out. But yes, the results say we need to start getting three points – end of story.”