Johnny on the spot for Phoenix

CHINESE striker Jiang Chen is a good chance to make the Wellington Phoenix squad for Saturday night’s match against North Queensland Fury.

CHINESE striker Jiang Chen is a good chance to make the Wellington Phoenix squad for Saturday night-s match against North Queensland Fury.

Should Chen, dubbed “Johnny” by his Phoenix teammates, make the trip to Townsville for the Hyundai A-League round 11 match, it will be the Chinese under-23 international-s first chance to showcase his talent in a competition match since joining the Phoenix on loan from Chinese Super League club Tianjin Teda at the start of the season.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert, only just back from the Middle East with his All Whites charges following New Zealand-s stunning 0-0 result in the World Cup away qualifier against Bahrain, said Chen had impressed in a recent training match and could play a role at Dairy Farmers Stadium.

“We-ll probably take Johnny and give him his first chance to feature with the team. He played in the match against (YoungHeart) Manawatu at the weekend and scored a good goal (in a 2-0 win). He-s ready to come into the mix – he-s a new face and he could provide us with that X-factor.

“Johnny-s technically very good, I think he-ll be able to get in behind the defence and create chances.”

However, Herbert is unlikely to tinker too much with the starting XI from the game against Gold Coast United prior to the Wellington club-s bye – the Phoenix completely dominating the highly fancied home side though they were unable to seal three competition points in what ended a goalless stalemate. That draw was the Phoenix-s fifth on the trot and, while they could make Hyundai A-League history by registering another draw in Townsville, Herbert wants that run snapped with a win.

“Johnny will most likely be on the bench because I don-t want to change the team a lot,” said Herbert. “We-ve been playing good football and it-s tough to change a side that-s playing well. The Gold Coast game was an excellent performance for no reward and we-ve been good enough to win the last five in a row. That hasn-t quite happened and we-ve got to make sure we are winning them.”

The Phoenix-s last match at the Fury was a case in point – the Phoenix 1-0 up till the 94th minute at Westpac Stadium when the Fury equalised with a fortuitous goal.

“Defensively we-ve been very solid but now we need to take our chances – we keep getting them. So who knows, Johnny Chen could be the luck we need.”

With the Phoenix-s leading All Whites – Tim Brown, Tony Lochhead, Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos and goalkeeper Mark Paston – all pulling up okay from the last weekend-s match against Bahrain, Herbert-s only selection dilemma centres around fullback Manny Muscat.

The Malta international played the full 90 minutes in his country-s 2-1 loss to Angola at the weekend and he was due for more gametime against Portugal in Europe overnight. Depending on Muscat-s condition when he rejoins the Phoenix, Herbert may look to Troy Hearfield to fill the gap.