Primed for pre-season

WELLINGTON Phoenix FC is raring to go for its first big test of the new Hyundai A-League season when the club hosts the Central Coast Mariners in a 2008 Pre-Season Cup clash at Westpac Stadium on Sunday.

The Phoenix have recruited well in the off-season but face their sternest test of a tough early build-up when they face their bogey team, the Mariners, in their opening 2008 Pre-Season Cup showdown.

In the two teams- past meetings the Mariners have won all four times, adding extra incentive for the revamped Phoenix to turn in a strong performance on Sunday.

Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert was playing down any emotion surrounding the tantalising clash at Westpac Stadium – dubbed the Ring of Fire by the Wellington club-s passionate fans.

“For us it-s another step in our build-up. This match will give us a good indication of where we-re at and we are treating it as such.”

The Phoenix have been working intensely at training for three months and Herbert said every member of his squad was champing at the bit for game-time.

“There-s always going to be that adrenalin rush – most of the A-League sides will be experiencing that. But from our point of view it-ll be great to get back out in front of the fans again and get cracking.

“We-ve had quite a big change in personnel, so it might take a wee while to bring it together. But we-ve got three pre-season games to do that and get things right.”

Newly-named captain Andrew Durante will lead the Phoenix on Sunday and is one of seven new players in the main squad. Durante will be joined by fellow debutants Jon McKain, Troy Hearfield, Leo Bertos and Leilei Gao in the 15-man lineup for Sunday-s game.

Herbert was excited about the shape and balance of his squad.

“I think it-s very good. We-ve still got a couple of positions to fill but currently we-re looking good right across the park. As a group we-ve done what we needed to do and we-ve had a couple of trips to bond as a group. Things really couldn-t have gone any better for us up to this point in the season.”

Revenge wasn-t high on Herbert-s list of priorities but he admitted getting one over on Mariners counterpart Lawrie McKinna would be sweet.

“They were a tough side for us last season right around the park and were very solid. This game gives us a nice challenge and chance to have a real shot at them.”

Adding spice to Sunday-s match is the return to Wellington of inaugural marquee player Ahmad Elrich – this time in the blue and navy of the Mariners.

“I think it-ll be great to see Ahmad again,” Herbert said. “There-ll be some decent banter around him returning to Wellington and that-s kind of cool. I-m sure he-ll get a rousing welcome on his return to Westpac Stadium.”

Sunday-s match at Westpac Stadium kicks off 4pm NZT (2pm AEST). Tickets for the match cost $15 for adults and $5 for children and are available from the Wellington Phoenix FC store on the corner of Cuba and Dixon streets in Wellington city. Tickets will be also available for purchase from the venue from midday on Sunday.

Round one, 2008 Pre-Season Cup
Wellington Phoenix FC v Central Coast Mariners FC
Sunday, 20 July 2008
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8, Vaughan COVENY, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 12. Richard JOHNSON, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 17. Vince LIA, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 21. Leilei GAO, 24. Andrew DURANTE (captain).

Central Coast Mariners squad: 2. Andre GUMPRECHT, 5. Bradley PORTER, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 8. Dean HEFFERNAN, 10. Adrian CACERES, 11. Dylan MacALLISTER, 15. Andrew CLARK, 17. Matthew OSMAN, 18. Alex WILKINSON, 20. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 21. Ahmad ELRICH, 22. Sasho PETROVSKI, 24. David D-APUZZO, 25. Nik MRDJA, 30. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk).