Locking back on to top form

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC’s most capped player is working hard to recapture the form that led him to be regarded as one of the Hyundai A-League’s best fullbacks and earn a trial with English Premier League club Middlesbrough.

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC-s most capped player is working hard to recapture the form that led him to be regarded as one of the Hyundai A-League-s best fullbacks and earn a trial with English Premier League club Middlesbrough.

Tony Lochhead now has 41 caps for the Phoenix – two more than former club star Shane Smeltz, now with competition rivals Gold Coast United. The 27-year-old Lochhead was one of the Phoenix-s standout performers in the club-s inaugural season in the Hyundai A-League in 2007/08, in particular his trademark bursts up the left flank and pinpoint delivery to strikers creating havoc for opposition defences.

But, by his own admission, Lochhead-s form fell away following his return from a two-week trial at Gareth Southgate-s Middlesbrough before the start of the 2008/09 season.

“I certainly don-t think I had as good a season last season as I did in the first. I probably just didn-t get involved as much attacking-wise as I would have liked, so that was disappointing.

“I think the team did much better as a whole, but on a personal note I would have liked to have done better. I-m looking to improve on that this season.”

Lochhead-s combination with Brazilian midfield playmaker – and fellow left-footer – Daniel was superb in season one, with the duo forming a fine understanding.

“Daniel didn-t play as much in the second season, so there wasn-t that same time to fine-tune and further develop the combination,” the Kiwi international says. “But it-s my job to link with the players in front of me regardless of who-s there. That-s something I-m working on – being strong defensively but also getting up and down (the flank) and using the engine that I-ve got.”

A player possessing fantastic fitness and athletic ability, Lochhead will need to call on all his reserves to contain the threat of Brisbane Roar-s wide boys in the energy-sapping conditions at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Lochhead admits the Phoenix-s back four were disappointing in the season opening loss to the Newcastle Jets and that there was still plenty to work on following the 2-1 defeat of Perth Glory at Westpac Stadium in round two.

“We-re trying to improve day in, day out. There was definitely a patch in the second half against Perth where we were put under a bit of pressure but games do tend to go in waves and we-re working hard on minimising those chances the opposition has.

“Obviously we-re aware Brisbane have the speedsters on the left and right and were working on making sure we-re ready for that this weekend.”

Suncorp has been an unhappy hunting ground for the Phoenix in the past two seasons, the New Zealand-based club having never grabbed as much as a point there in three previous matches.

“We don-t think about what-s happened in the past,” Lochhead says. “We-re concentrating on building on the performance from last weekend. It will be tough going there, it will be a lot hotter and that is a factor, but we-re quietly confident.”

Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert said Lochhead and fellow fullback, Manny Muscat, would need to be on their game at Suncorp.

“The fullbacks are going to need some support and we-ve had a look at that this week. But in general both fullbacks need to defend better than what we-ve seen in the first two games, and the central pairing will also need to step up.”

Herbert is likely to again favour an attacking mindset in Brisbane. With Tim Brown unavailable through injury for at least another week, Diego is set to again start in the midfield following his first run-on appearance for the Phoenix against Perth.

Striker Paul Ifill has been under an injury cloud during the week but Herbert is confident the Briton – who scored his first goal for the Phoenix against Perth – will be available.

“I wouldn-t say the cloud has lifted but we can probably see through it now. Paul will travel and we-ll give him right up till Sunday morning before we make a decision, but he does look a lot better.”

Sunday, 23 August 2009
Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Local kickoff:
3pm (5pm NZST)
Referee: Chris Beath

Live and exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 3 and Sky Sport 1. Hyundai A-League club broadcast partner is The Radio Network 1035 AM (Wellington).

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. DIEGO, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL. 9. Chris GREENACRE, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (c).