Record for the taking in Palmy showdown

IT almost couldn’t have been scripted any better – one team attempting to steal a record from very team that holds it in a head-to-head showdown.

IT almost couldn-t have been scripted any better – one team attempting to steal a record from very team that holds it in a head-to-head showdown.

Wellington Phoenix FC can claim the Hyundai A-League record for unbeaten matches at home this weekend with a win or a draw.

The New Zealand-based club shares the record of 14 consecutive matches unbeaten on home turf with Sydney FC – the team the Phoenix faces this weekend in a Hyundai A-League round 18 match.

But while the Phoenix have made Westpac Stadium their fortress for more than a year, they chart new territory on Saturday when they host Sydney FC at a new “home” ground – FMG Stadium in Palmerston North.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert is excited about the match, which will be the Phoenix-s first competition fixture outside Wellington.

“It-s very exciting and by all accounts things are bubbling along really well in Palmerston North and there-s a lot of buzz about. It goes to show that the game is in great heart in New Zealand and that football is continuing to go from strength to strength.

“Manawatu has always had a strong and proud football history and it-s a real privilege for me and the team to be playing at FMG Stadium. It-s going to be a fantastic match. While it-s new for Palmerston North and for the Hyundai A-League, it-s going to be new for us too and that adds so much to what is an important game.”

However, Herbert has a couple of selection setbacks for the big game, with New Zealand World Cup hero Mark Paston ruled out of the match with a fractured tibia.

The injury will see the in-form goalkeeper out of action for up to six weeks, with Paston due to undergo surgery on Friday.

Compounding the loss of Paston is the suspension of fellow All White Ben Sigmund, who has been rubbed out for three weeks after punching Melbourne Victory defender Adrian Leijer in last weekend-s 1-1 draw at Westpac Stadium.

Former Socceroo Jon McKain is likely to return from injury to the Phoenix-s starting line-up in place of Sigmund and young keeper Reece Crowther will start in his sixth Hyundai A-League match. Ironically, Crowther has started in both of the Phoenix matches against the Sky Blues this season.

Herbert said players on the fringe of the starting team had the chance to step up on Saturday.

“Everyone has trained well and there could be opportunities. Everyone in the squad senses that. If we do go with new players then this could be their chance.”

Making the Hyundai A-League record of unbeaten games at home their own was not playing on the minds of the Phoenix players.

“It-s certainly not what is driving us,” said Herbert. “We know that if we play well then the result will take care of itself, no matter who takes the field. But if we can get that record, then great.”

A win will further enhance the Phoenix-s playoff aspirations and they tackle a Sydney side struggling for consistency. The Sydneysiders lost three in a row before hammering North Queensland Fury 4-1 last weekend.

“They bounced back well and it-s another example of the swings and roundabouts in this competition,” said Herbert. “They-ll be tough but we-ve got plenty to play for and we-ll have a great crowd behind us.”

Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata was excited about taking top-flight football to a new centre.

“Wellington Phoenix FC is New Zealand-s only fully professional club and we-re looking forward to a great game in Palmerston North. As a club we-ve recognised the need to take the game to areas outside our home base in Wellington and tap into the passion for football we know is alive and well in the heartland.

“FMG Stadium is a superb venue and everyone involved in Palmerston North has stepped up to help us prepare what is going to be a very special night for the city, for the Phoenix as a club and for football in New Zealand.

“Most of our loyal members are making to trip up the line to Palmy and the atmosphere at the game is going to be something truly unique.”

Saturday night-s match at FMG Stadium in Palmerston North kicks off at 7pm.

Saturday, December 12, 2009
Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC
FMG Stadium, Palmerston North
Local kickoff:
7pm (5pm AEDT)
Referee: Michael Hester

Live and exclusive broadcast on Sky Sport 2 and Fox Sports 2. Hyundai A-League club broadcast partner is The Radio Network 1035 AM (Wellington). To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.co.nz

Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. DIEGO, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Adrian CACERES, 16. David MULLIGAN, 17. Vince LIA, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 21. Marco ROJAS, 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 23. Costa BARBAROUSES, 30. Jonathan GOULD (gk). * four to be omitted*

In: Jonathan GOULD (gk, injury replacement player), Chris GREENACRE (returns from injury), Marco ROJAS (promoted), David MULLIGAN (promoted), Michael FERRANTE (promoted).
Out: Mark PASTON (gk, knee – 4-6 weeks), Ben SIGMUND (suspended – 3 weeks).
Unavailable: Manny MUSCAT (suspended – 2 weeks).

Sydney FC squad: 1. Clint BOLTON (gk), 2. Sebastian RYALL, 3.Stephan KELLER, 4. Simon COLOSIMO, 6. Karol KISEL, 7. Brendan GAN, 8. Stuart MUSIALIK, 9. John ALOISI, 10. Steve CORICA (c), 16. Chris PAYNE, 12. Shannon COLE, 14. Alex BROSQUE, 15. Terry MCFLYNN, 18.Adam CASEY, 20. Ivan NECEVSKI (gk), 22. Sung Hwan BYUN, 23. Rhyan GRANT. * two to be omitted*

In: Chris PAYNE (promoted).
Out: Mark BRIDGE (ankle), Kofi DANNING (not selected).
Unavailable: Nil

*Head-to-Head: Played 8: Wellington Phoenix wins 3, Sydney FC wins 4 (1 draw)