THE Wellington Phoenix face a huge test of character at Westpac Stadium this weekend as they seek to keep their Hyundai A-League playoffs dream alive following a gutting 1-0 loss to Sydney FC on Sunday night.
Kofi Danning-s 85th-minute toe-poke was enough for Sydney FC to take the three points at the Sydney Football Stadium in a match the Phoenix will rightfully consider themselves very unlucky not to take a point from.
Young Phoenix midfielder Troy Hearfield was marched in the 64th minute after a flare-up with Sydney-s Alex Brosque. The Phoenix were largely unthreatened despite being a man down until, with a stalemate looking likely as the clock wound down, rookie Danning was able to nudge the ball past keeper Glen Moss.
The loss means the Phoenix head to Westpac Stadium on Sunday needing to beat table-topping Adelaide United to keep their finals hopes alive. In what was already shaping as a pivotal match for the New Zealand-based club well before the match against Sydney FC, the clash with Adelaide takes on extra spice as the Phoenix seek to close the three-point gap on the fourth-placed Central Coast Mariners and exact some overdue revenge on the Reds.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said the dismissal of Hearfield came at a crunch point in the match.
“It was tough. It-s disappointing that Troy was sent off because I felt we were getting on top and in the ascendancy. We weren-t under too much pressure at any point and we were starting to build some decent attacks and starting to get the ball wider.
“But when you-re down to 10 men a lot of your plans go out the window. We-d dominated possession up till that point and while I-m not one to read too much into those sorts of statistics they can tell a bit of a story.
“At the end of the day it came down to 10 versus 11 and that was always going to be difficult for us, but I think we deserved to get something from it.”
Earlier, a warm-up injury to reserve striker/midfielder Adam Kwasnik limited Herbert-s options off the bench, ultimately exacerbating the loss of Hearfield.
Herbert-s focus now shifts to what promises to be a show-stopper at Westpac Stadium against Adelaide United on Sunday. With the Phoenix fifth on the table on 25 points and the Mariners in fourth spot on 28, the Wellingtonians need a win against the Reds to keep their dream of an historic playoffs appearance alive.
“The game against Adelaide was always going to be a big one for us and this result doesn-t change that,” Herbert said.
“We-re still there, we-re still well in with a shot and we-ll fight on. We need back-to-back wins (against Adelaide and Melbourne Victory) and that-ll be our motivation. It-s not over till it-s over and we-ll be looking to take things right down to the wire.”