Herbert’s thinking coloured by yellow

THE prospect of players missing Wellington Phoenix’s Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season opener through suspension has dominated coach Ricki Herbert’s thinking ahead of tomorrow’s 2008 Pre-Season Cup match against Sydney FC in Wollongong.

THE prospect of players missing Wellington Phoenix-s Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season opener through suspension has dominated coach Ricki Herbert-s thinking ahead of tomorrow-s 2008 Pre-Season Cup match against Sydney FC in Wollongong.

Competition rules stipulate that any player who accrues two yellow cards during the 2008 Pre-Season Cup is suspended from the following match. Suspensions carry over into the competition proper and could cause headaches for all clubs in the first round of the new season.

The problem was set to be compounded for the two 2008 Pre-Season Cup finalists because the extra game meant players ran an additional risk of suspension through yellow cards.

However, Football Federation Australia today amended 2008 Pre-Season Cup disciplinary rules to wipe all yellow cards at the end of round three of the warm-up competition, meaning that the two teams contesting the final will start with a clean slate in terms of cautions.

With the Phoenix at the top of the standings in Group B and a good shot at making the final, the FFA-s decision came as welcome news.

“It-s a good move by the FFA,” Herbert said. “[Phoenix chief executive] Tony Pignata lobbied strongly on behalf of all clubs and it-s pleasing that his concerns, and those of the other clubs, have been addressed.”

But the possibility of suspensions carrying into round one of the Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season remains a concern for all clubs in this weekend-s round of matches.

“I-m sure there-s sensitivity around what coaches can and can-t do and how much of a risk they-re prepared to take with players [in danger of suspension]. It does play a big part in your thinking at this point in the season.”

Defensive midfielder Karl Dodd will miss tomorrow-s game against Sydney FC after being cautioned in the Phoenix-s first two matches. Others with yellow cards include midfielder Troy Hearfield and centre back Jon McKain.

With left back Tony Lochhead currently trialling with English Premier League club Middlesbrough and right back Vince Lia out for the season with injury, Herbert has named Hearfield in his squad as a cover option in Wollongong.

“Jon took a bit of a knock against Queensland last weekend, so that helped our decision in not playing him this weekend. But we-ve elected to play Troy because of where we sit. Troy gives us a little bit of security should we need to make adjustments at the back.”

Manny Muscat, on trial with the Phoenix from Victorian Premier League club Green Gully, is a likely starter at left back against Sydney FC, with Jeremy Christie on the other flank. Ben Sigmund will start at centre back alongside skipper Andrew Durante.

Richard Johnson, superb as a substitute in last weekend-s 1-1 draw with the Roar, will start at WIN Stadium in place of the suspended Dodd.

“We-ve always targeted Sydney as the time to introduce Richard,” Herbert said. “He had a small injury concern for a couple of weeks but he was fantastic against Queensland and helped swing the momentum our way. He never complicates things and is exactly what we need.”

Chinese playmaker Leilei Gao returns to the side and will get time in the Phoenix-s talent-laden midfield.

The Phoenix lead Group B in the 2008 Pre-Season Cup and victory tomorrow will assure them a spot in Wednesday-s final. Herbert admitted the prospect was enticing.

“It-s a tough one because it would be cool for Wellington to be in a final – we-ve only been going 18 months – albeit a pre-season one. But that won-t be the focal point for the game; it-ll be around the performance. I think if we get a decent performance that [making the final] may take care of itself.”

Wellington Phoenix: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Jeremy CHRISTIE, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8, Vaughan COVENY, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 12. Richard JOHNSON, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 21. Leilei GAO, 24. Andrew DURANTE (captain), 26. Manny MUSCAT, 27. Adam KWASNIK.

Sydney FC: 1 Clint BOLTON (gk), 2 Iain FYFE, 3 Nick TSATTALIOS, 5 Mitchell PRENTICE, 6 Tony POPOVIC (c), 7 Robbie MIDDLEBY, 10 Steve CORICA, 14 Alex BROSQUE, 15 Terry McFLYNN, 17 Jacob TIMPANO, 18 Adam CASEY, 20 Ivan NECEVSKI (gk), 21 Adam BIDDLE, 24 Ryan WALSH, 26 Dez GIRALDI.