Phoenix to host pre-season showdown

WELLINGTON Phoenix will host the 2008 Pre-Season Cup final against Melbourne Victory at Westpac Stadium this Wednesday evening.

The Phoenix sealed the right to host the final with a pulsating 3-2 victory against Sydney FC in Wollongong on Saturday night – firing in three unanswered second-half goals to down the Hyundai A-League-s glamour boys.

Troy Hearfield, Shane Smeltz and Leilei Gao were the goal-scoring heroes; the win taking the unbeaten Phoenix topped Group B in the 2008 Pre-Season Cup standings with two wins and a draw in their three group matches.

With seven points the Phoenix earned the right to host the final ahead of the Victory, who topped Group A with six points after beating the Newcastle Jets 1-0 earlier on Saturday.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said making the final was a great result for the young club.

“It-s good for everyone involved at the club to not only make the final but also to be hosting it. It-s a first for a New Zealand-based professional club in this competition and I think that-s great for football here and for the competition in general.

“I-m sure the fans will really enjoy seeing another game at Westpac Stadium on Wednesday evening.”

The prospect of a home final looked dim early on for the Phoenix at WIN Stadium when Sydney FC took an early lead through Alex Brosque in the 16th minute and Iain Fyfe doubled the advantage 10 minutes before the break.

But the Phoenix roared home in the second half. Hearfield-s clinical finish got the visitors under way in the 57th minute before a Smeltz penalty levelled the scores in the 62nd. Chinese ace Leilei Gao made sure of the result in the 82nd minute when he pounced on a poor back pass, rounded Sydney keeper Ivan Necevski and slotted the ball in from a tight angle.

Despite his side going two down in the first half, Herbert was pleased with the performance in the opening 45 minutes.

“We actually played pretty well. There were no real concerns but it was just a couple of blips that resulted in goals. But in the second half we were excellent – we were pretty much all over them.”

The Phoenix went into the match with a makeshift back four of Jeremy Christie at right back, Ben Sigmund in the middle alongside skipper Andrew Durante and triallist Manny Muscat on the left flank.

“Given that they really only had two training sessions together I thought the back four went well,” Herbert said. “There was a little bit of miscommunication at times that led to goals but I can-t blame them for that. What impressed me most is that they got stronger and stronger and grew in stature as the match went on.

“Jeremy got a solid 90 minutes under his belt; Manny, who has never played at A-League level before, did a good job and Siggy was solid. From there we were able to create a lot of pressure and we had lots of ball in the second half. Overall it was very pleasing.”

Durante received a second yellow card and was sent off late in the match, meaning he will miss Wednesday-s showdown. However, the loss of Durante for the final at Westpac Stadium is likely to be mitigated by the return of classy centre back Jon McKain from injury.

While the Phoenix are rightfully buzzing at the prospect of taking on the Victory, Herbert said there was still work to do ahead of the club-s Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season-opener against the Queensland Roar on August 17.

“We-ve still got some decisions to make and it-s important that we don-t get too caught up in the emotion of making the final.”

Wednesday-s final kicks off at 7.30pm. Tickets will cost $15 for adults, with children (16 and under) admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult (maximum three children per paying adult). Tickets are available for purchase from the Wellington Phoenix club store on the corner of Cuba and Dixon streets in Wellington city and will also be on sale at the gate on gameday.

2008 Pre-Season Cup – Round three
Sydney FC v Wellington Phoenix
Saturday 2 August 2008
WIN Stadium, Wollongong

Wellington Phoenix 3 (Troy Hearfield 57-, Shane Smeltz 62- pen, Leilei Gao 82-)
Sydney FC 2 (Alex Brosque 16-, Iain Fyfe 36-)