Stepping on to the top-four tightrope

WELLINGTON Phoenix have stepped on to the Hyundai A-League top-four tightrope and a delicate balancing act has begun.

Starting with Friday night-s clash with the Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium, the Phoenix face six matches that will make or break their playoff ambitions.

The Phoenix currently sit in sixth place on the Hyundai A-League 2008/09 table on 19 points, just three points behind the fourth-placed Mariners. A win against the Mariners will have the Wellington club well set for a charge into the playoffs.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert appreciates his side-s need to garner as many competition points as possible in the remaining six rounds of the regular season but he also understands the dangers of throwing caution to the wind in the search for victories.

“All of the teams ahead of us are in the same boat – no one can really afford to slip behind at this point of the season. That creates scenarios where things can be tit-for-tat and can throw up stalemate situations because teams are too cautious and concerned about slipping off the pace.

“I think that, given where we are, we can chance our arm against the Central Coast because three points on Friday night will be critical and will throw us right into the playoffs mix.

“However, it-s also important for us to not lose sight of our game-plan by going into this all guns blazing. We have to make sure the performance has balance and structure.”

The Phoenix certainly had their guns blazing against Perth Glory last weekend but the sharpshooters were unable to hit their target in the 1-1 draw. While Herbert conceded the draw was more a case of two points lost rather than a point gained, he was nevertheless pleased to see his players creating good scoring opportunities.

“We had 17 scoring opportunities last weekend and we only scored one goal. That-s not what the ratio needs to be, so we need to take our chances and be a lot more ruthless in those critical areas.

“On Friday night we get another shot.”

The Phoenix have lost Ben Sigmund for Friday night-s match, the gutsy central defender unable to shake off a hip injury sustained in the match against Perth. His spot has been taken by Karl Dodd, who is likely to slot straight into the starting XI.

Striker/midfielder Adam Kwasnik gets another chance to face his former teammates, called into the squad to bolster the Phoenix-s attacking options against the Mariners.

The Phoenix has proven a bogey side for the Mariners this season. Not only are the Bluetongue boys yet to beat the Phoenix this campaign, they are also yet to score against the Wellingtonians.

But Herbert isn-t reading too much into past results.

“Our form against them is good but it-ll be tough on Friday night. They (the Mariners) are in a good position on the table and they-ll be looking to push on. They-re a big, strong and physical side and we-ll have to ensure we can starve their playmakers of the ball and eliminate their forward movement.

“We-ll be giving them the respect they deserve but they-ll definitely find it very difficult coming here.”

Friday, December 19
Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners
Westpac Stadium
Local kickoff:
7.30pm (5.30pm AEDT)
Referee: Chris Beath

Live and exclusive broadcast on FOX Sports 1 and Sky Sport 1. Hyundai A-League club radio broadcast partner is Radio Network (Wellington) 1035AM and Coast FM (Gosford) 96.3FM.

Wellington Phoenix squad: 2. Jeremy CHRISTIE, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 15. Adam KWASNIK, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain), 25. Manny MUSCAT, 30. Scott HIGGINS (gk).

Central Coast Mariners squad: 2. Andre GUMPRECHT, 4. Pedj BOJIC, 5. Bradley PORTER, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 8. Dean HEFFERNAN, 9. Nik MRDJA, 10. Adrian CACERES, 11. Dylan MACALLISTER, 15. Andrew CLARK, 17. Matthew OSMAN, 18. Alex WILKINSON, 19. Matt SIMON, 20. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 22. Sasho PETROVSKI, 23. Mile JEDINAK, 30. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk). *one to be omitted.