Phoenix gunning for winning week

SKIPPER Andrew Durante is delighted his Wellington Phoenix team is back on the winning side of the ledger and is desperate to keep things that way in two tough matches in Melbourne just days apart.

The Phoenix take on Melbourne Victory at AAMI Stadium on Wednesday night then back up to tackle Hyundai A-League new boys Melbourne Heart at the same venue on Sunday.

It-s a big ask for the New Zealand-based club, but Durante says the Phoenix have renewed confidence after sinking Sydney FC 2-1 last Saturday at Westpac Stadium to snap back-to-back losses on the road.

“It was a fantastic win against Sydney. It wasn-t easy but we got the right result. Coming off two losses we were desperate for the three points and we showed just how desperate we were by fighting to the end.

“Now we-ve got two games in five days – that-s not something that happens regularly in the A-League. But we-re professionals and it sort of makes you feel even more like a professional when you-ve got such a short turnaround like this.

“It-s new and exciting for the club and hopefully we can manage things and keep a full-strength squad for both games, because we-re gunning to stay on our winning way, get something from both these games and prove we-ve got championship credentials.”

It was a willing affair against Sydney FC at the Phoenix-s fortress, with Durante and teammates Manny Muscat and Leo Bertos copping their fair share of rough-housing.

The three have pulled up fine and taken their places in coach Ricki Herbert-s extended 17-man squad which departed Wellington today for the Melbourne double-header.

Socceroos defender Jade North was also onboard the plane to Melbourne, with goalkeeper Mark Paston and midfielder Vince Lia also making the trip after missing the Sydney FC match through injury.

“Obviously Ricki-s going to try and play his best and fittest team in both matches,” said Durante. “If there is an injury to certain players then we-ve got more than enough depth in the squad to step in and do the job. We are blessed with such good depth this year and I think that could be the main factor that takes us through to a championship.”

The arrival of North creates a pleasant dilemma for Herbert, who now has some tough decisions to make about the makeup of the Phoenix-s defensive line.

“It-ll be an interesting one to see what Ricki does with Jade. The back four did quite well against Sydney, although we were probably a little loose in the away games. Jade-s capable of playing anywhere in the backline, from left back through to centre half to right back. He-s a very versatile player and wherever he-s needed by Ricki I-m sure he-ll do the job.”

If North can make the sort of impact demonstrated by another new signing, Nick Ward, the Phoenix will be in good stead. Ward scored a cracking 25m winner against Sydney in just his second appearance for the Phoenix after crossing the Tasman from the Victory. Now he gets the chance to put his old club to the sword on Wednesday.

Durante said Ward had been a sensational addition for the Phoenix.

“We were lucky to get him, a player of such good quality, and he showed at the weekend what he-s capable of doing. There-ll be plenty of emotion this week for him but hopefully he can harness that and score another cracker against his old club – I-m sure he-d love that.”

Ward-s goal against Sydney FC was the Phoenix-s 99th in the Hyundai A-League and the canny midfielder could be a good shot to bring up the club-s century by scoring against the Victory.

Durante, however, fancies his chances of claiming that honour. The inspirational skipper scored his one and only Hyundai A-League goal to date in last season-s preliminary final loss to Sydney FC and would dearly love to double his tally and become the Phoenix-s centurion scorer against the Victory.

“The boys up front will be keen to get it but I reckon I-m a good chance – I think I could well score the 100th goal for the Wellington Phoenix.”

Meanwhile, young Phoenix striker Mirjan Pavlovic has been named in Aurelio Vidmar-s Australia under-23 squad for a Four Nations Tournament in Vietnam next week.

Pavlovic will join the 20-player squad in Sydney on Thursday before departing on Friday for Vietnam, where they will play matches against the under-23 national teams of DPR Korea and Kuwait and the Vietnam senior men-s team.

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Nick WARD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Mirjan PAVLOVIC, 15. Jade NORTH, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 19. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 23. Dylan MACALLISTER
*two to be omitted*

In: Mark PASTON (gk, return from injury), Jade NORTH (new signing), Vince LIA (return from injury)
Out: Griffin McMASTER (gk, omitted)
Unavailable: Reece CROWTHER (gk, ribs – 3 weeks)