WELLINGTON Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert is under no illusions about the enormity of the challenge facing his side in Adelaide tomorrow night.
Beating Adelaide United at their Hindmarsh Stadium stronghold is perhaps the toughest task in the Hyundai A-League, the Reds regularly making the most of their home-ground advantage.
Having taken only one point from their first two matches of the new season at Westpac Stadium, the Phoenix travel to the City of Churches hungry for a good result. While a win is the obvious target, Herbert suggested that even a draw would be something of a bonus.
“Historically, it has been tough for all teams playing in Adelaide. In all the calculations I think most people will be expecting us to go there and not get anything. It may sound trite, but really we-ve got nothing to lose in this one.
“But there-s a feeling that despite last weekend-s result [a 4-2 loss to Melbourne Victory] that we are playing better all the time. That-s not to gloss over what happened against Melbourne – the boys are disappointed about the mistakes and we-re very disappointed about where we sit at the moment.
“That-s the simple reality of it. We-d set a goal of being on four points after the first two matches but we-re on one.
“If we can go to Adelaide and get something out of this game then that-ll be a nice bonus for us. I think we-re a very good chance.”
Herbert said the players had responded positively after last weekend-s frustrating loss at home.
“There is an internal drive from the players to do really well and they don-t walk away after losing 4-2 taking things lightly. There have been some challenges everyone has had to face but the week has been good and there-s been some real intensity around the club.”
The Phoenix have been boosted by the return of playmaking midfielders Leilei Gao and Leo Bertos from injury. In defence, experienced New Zealand international David Mulligan is set to make his first appearance for the club at right back, coming into the squad in place of Manny Muscat.
“Manny has done an excellent job for us throughout the pre-season and in the first two games. But David was signed specifically as our first-choice right back and now that he-s where we want him to be in terms of fitness and preparation it-s time he got his chance.
“It-s a tough one for David – Adelaide away – the challenge will be there and that-s the level he-s going to have to be at. I-m looking forward to seeing his performance.”
The Phoenix-s midfield did a sterling job in shocking, sodden conditions against the Victory last weekend and will be relishing the possibility of playing their classy brand of football on a dry surface at Hindmarsh.
“We-ve shown our ability to secure and control possession for long periods,” Herbert said. “Hindmarsh, I-m sure, will be a really nice playing surface and that-ll suit us.
“We-ve got Leo and Leilei coming back into the team – they-re arguably two of the best wide players in the league – and if we can get enough of the ball and get the right people forward then I think we can cause Adelaide some problems.
“There are a lot of positives there for us.”
Tomorrow-s match kicks off at 6.30pm ACST (7pm AEST, 9pm NZT) and will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 3 and Fox Sports 3.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Jeremy CHRISTIE, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 7. Leo BERTOS, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 12. Richard JOHNSON, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 15. Adam KWASNIK, 16. David MULLIGAN, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 21. Leilei GAO, 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain).
* one to be omitted
Adelaide United squad: 20. Eugene GALEKOVIC (gk), 2. Robert CORNTHWAITE, 3. ALEMAO, 5. Michael VALKANIS, 4. Angelo COSTANZO, 7. Lucas PANTELIS, 9. Paul AGOSTINO, 10. CRISTIANO, 13. Travis DODD (captain), 14. Scott JAMIESON, 15. Jonas SALLEY, 16. Daniel MULLEN, 18. Fabian BARBIERO, 19. Sasa OGNENOVSKI, 21. Jason SPAGNUOLO, 22. DIEGO, 24. Paul REID, 25. Robert YOUNIS, 30. Mark BIRIGHITTI (gk).
* four to be omitted