Top-drawer Phoenix freshen up

THE FIFA international window has come at a good time for the Wellington Phoenix, who will use the break to freshen up several key players ahead of the resumption of the Hyundai A-League 2009/10 season.

The Phoenix-s six New Zealand internationals and coach Ricki Herbert travel to Bahrain for a crunch World Cup qualifier next weekend, while defender Manny Muscat also heads off for international duty with Malta.

The remainder of the Phoenix squad will regroup in Wellington to prepare for the resumption of their Hyundai A-League campaign, away to North Queensland Fury on October 17.

Herbert said several key players, notably classy striker Paul Ifill and skipper Andrew Durante, would use the spell to recover from various knocks and get back to full fitness.

Ifill and Durante were among the top performers in the Phoenix-s 0-0 draw with competition frontrunners Gold Coast United at Skilled Park on Friday night, helping the visitors to a point in yet another match the Phoenix were unlucky not to win.

It was a complete and comprehensive showing from the Phoenix, who dominated the highly-rated home side and did everything but put the ball in the back of the net. Friday night-s draw was the Phoenix-s fifth on the trot and was their second clean sheet in as many weeks.

To keep Gold Coast scoreless was a huge achievement in itself, the Glitter Strip outfit at almost full strength and boasting an attacking lineup featuring an attacking combination dubbed the “Fab Four” – former Phoenix star Shane Smeltz, Joel Porter, captain Jason Culina and Brazilian Robson.

“They had their big guns back and there were predictions we-d be on the end of a hiding,” said Herbert. “But we were fantastic – Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund were top-drawer and totally shut them down on attack. Everyone was up for it, we never took the foot off the throttle and I think that showed in what was arguably one of our most comprehensive performances to date.”

However, despite again creating several excellent scoring opportunities, the Phoenix couldn-t put Gold Coast away. Daniel rattled the crossbar with a fine header, Ifill and fellow striker Chris Greenacre went close, while in-form winger Leo Bertos had two good chances and menaced the Gold Coast defence throughout the game.

“Wins will come,” said Herbert. “We-ve just got to keep things going and aim to consistently improve. We-re playing very well and we have deserved more from a lot of games, but things haven-t dropped our way.

“No one is denying we-ve had the chances and that we might-ve done better with those, so the onus remains on us. We have to take our chances, sometimes you only get a couple in tight games and they make the difference.”

Herbert, Sigmund, Bertos, Tim Brown, Mark Paston, David Mulligan and Tony Lochhead travel on to the Middle East tonight (Saturday) to link with the rest of the All Whites squad for the first leg of their World Cup qualifying tie against Bahrain on Sunday morning (4.30am kickoff NZDST).

The remainder of the Phoenix squad will return to Wellington to prepare for a visit to YoungHeart Manawatu on October 10, where fringe players will get some game-time.