Phoenix Back On The Paddock At Last

An assault on the Hyundai A-League title began for the Wellington Phoenix at Newtown Park today when the players returned to training after a three-month break.

No-one was more pleased to be back in action than head coach Ricki Herbert, but he was adamant there would be no heavy workload for the players for the next two weeks at least.

“Players always wonder, I know I did, what the manager has planned for them on the first day back,” Herbert said.

“What we have to remember is that we-ve still got three or four months before the competition kicks off so we will ease them back into it.

“We-ve got a few trialists coming in, though two of them were held up in Australia today because of the ash cloud that is affecting air travel. Hopefully they will be here tomorrow.

“I-ll also bring a few local players in to help with the numbers, but I think that is a good thing too – for them as well as us.

“In July we will move the programme forward fitness wise.”

Herbert said he intended to play more pre-season games than in past seasons, including home and away games against A-League teams.

With new players Jimmy Downey and Lucas Pantelis in action yesterday Herbert indicated he was in no rush to make more signings.

“We are looking at a few things and I would hope to have recruitment completed by the end of August,” he said.

“The three senior positions I am looking at are a goalkeeper, a striker and an attacking midfield player.

“We also have to sign three young players and for those spots I am probably looking at a fullback, a central defender and a midfielder.

“There is no rush to sign the young players because I want to find lads who are capable of challenging for a first team spot.”

While the main body of players concentrated on ball possession and a game, Leo Bertos and Tony Lochhead were confined to running as they rehabilitate from injuries that ruled both out of the All Whites two games earlier this month.

“Leo is probably about two weeks away from taking part in training but Tony will be out a while longer.

“He is suffering real pain and it would make no sense to rush him back into training, especially as we have such a long time before the league kicks off.”

Herbert made it plain he did not want to go into the season making up the numbers and, after being in the playoffs during the last two seasons, sees that as a minimum target.

“We will set the bar high this season. We-ve made the playoffs twice, now we have to try and win the league.”