WELLINGTON Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert believes Gold Coast United is looking vulnerable and could be ripe for the picking on Friday night.
The Phoenix travel to the Glitter Strip unbeaten in their last four games, while the Hyundai A-League-s new boys are looking to bounce back from two consecutive losses.
Gold Coast started season 2009/10 with a hiss and a roar but they-ve developed speed wobbles in recent times, shipping goals to the Central Coast Mariners (3-0) and Melbourne Victory (3-2) in the past two weeks. From eight games they have won four, drawn one and lost three to sit joint leaders with Perth Glory and Sydney FC. The Phoenix have lost only twice so far this season, though four draws in the past four games mean the Wellington club sits further down the standings, albeit still well in touch with the frontrunners on a congested league table.
Herbert said the Phoenix would hit the Gold Coast with confidence and a burning ambition to roll the hosts at Skilled Park. He was also forward to locking horns with colourful Gold Coast coach Miron Bleiberg for the first time.
“There were some pretty bold statements at the start of the year from the Gold Coast around what they wanted to achieve. Now they-ve dropped three in a short period of time and they-ll be trying to put the right on Friday.
“There-s a bit of uncertainty around them now, they-re conceding a lot of goals. There is a lot of vulnerability there.”
However, nothing could be taken for granted, the Phoenix boss said.
“The flipside (of losing) is that they could come out and put in a really resolute performance, but that-s for us to try to control.”
Being sharper at the attacking end will be a priority for the Phoenix, who have been unlucky not to convert a raft of excellent chances in the past month. The Gold Coast have looked fragile at the back and, in another blow, will be missing defender Steve Fitzsimmons (suspended) on Friday night.
“We-ve got to be on the front foot,” Herbert said. “They-re the sort of side that likes to throw caution to the wind but that can open up opportunities for us to exploit. We-ll need to get people in key attacking positions and take the chances when we get them.”
With the Gold Coast boasting the attacking capacity of former Phoenix striker Shane Smeltz, Jason Culina and Joel Porter, the Phoenix will again need a determined defensive effort.
“Shane-s the best striker in the league, so he-s going to come in for some attention,” Herbert said. “Jason is vastly experienced and Joel-s made a big impact in his first season as well. They-re good at the sharp end of the pitch. But again, it-s for us to control. If we can deny them quality ball then it might make the night a bit more comfortable for us.
“We kept our first clean sheet of the season last weekend (0-0 against the Mariners), so that-s very heartening for all the players at the back. But we have lacked that finish at the top and that-s probably cost us four or five points to date.”
Herbert said the Phoenix were developing excellent combinations right across the pitch – Paul Ifill and Chris Greenacre up front, skipper Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund at the heart of the back four and Tim Brown and Vince Lia in midfield.
“Tim and Vince, in particular, were very good against the Mariners – doing the work on defence dampening down (opposition) attacks and still getting forward on attack. Those combinations are getting settled now and we need to keep that type of pattern going.
“The whole squad-s been very good this week and let-s hope Friday night can be the turning point for us.”
Friday night-s match kicks off at 8pm local time (11pm NZDST).