Upbeat Cernak picks Phoenix to rise again

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2013

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Isaka Cernak seems blissfully unaware of the turbulence the Wellington Phoenix have been through this season.

Cernak arrived from the Melbourne Victory after the Phoenix's nadir - the 7-1 capitulation in Sydney - and has experienced a draw and a win.

It is good timing.

Cernak's quick feet have brought a bit of life to the midfield and he is unaffected by the club's previous woes.

There is no cockiness about the Aussie with the distinctive hair, just plenty of belief the ninth-placed team can keep winning - even if tonight's game is a daunting visit to the best in the business, A-League leaders Central Coast.

"I obviously wasn't around for the early parts of the season but this week's been very good," Cernak said.

"The boys are very upbeat and looking forward to it.

"The Mariners are a very good team. They've consistently been at the top of the table, year in and year out, but we've been working really hard on the training pitch.

"We're ready for them, we're ready for anyone really, and we're just going to get better and better.

"I think they're going to find it tough against us."

Whether that bravado is backed up or not, a positive and skilful player can only be an asset for the Phoenix as they attempt a late push for the playoffs.

Apart from the scenic backdrop, it is unlikely to be a great spectacle at Bluetongue Stadium tonight.

The Phoenix have reverted to their brand of direct and physical football in an attempt to dig themselves out of a sizeable hole.

While the Mariners can play pretty, like most top sides they are equally comfortable engaging in a dogfight if they have to.

Graham Arnold's side are unbeaten at Gosford this season.

Former English Premier League midfielder Nick Montgomery is in no mood to see that change.

"You have to build a fortress at your home ground and I think Bluetongue has been a fantastic showing of that from the players and the fans," Montgomery said.

"It's a fantastic atmosphere and we believe that no-one can come there and beat us.

"We'll fight tooth and nail to make sure no-one takes any points away from us at home.

"They [the Phoenix] have had a bit of an indifferent season but they do have some good players.

"They are a physical team and on their day, they're a good match for anybody. But we know that if we're on our game, we can get the right result."

It will be a new-look Phoenix side as coach Ricki Herbert shuffles his cards without the unavailable Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos and Tony Lochhead. Michael Boxall has been given a man-marking job on the league's leading scorer, Daniel McBreen, while fullbacks Ian Hogg and Manny Muscat will have their hands full against Pedj Bojic and Josh Rose.

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Cernak, who will have Vince Lia and Louis Fenton for company in midfield, said Saturday's 1-0 win over Perth had provided a big morale boost.

"Mentally, I think it does make a massive difference getting three points and having a win, regardless of the performance. I think we can improve a lot and, to be honest, I think it actually gives us a lot more motivation, knowing that we've got a lot more that we can show. Coming up against a better opposition, we know we've got to be better and we know we can be."

An upset win would lift the Phoenix ahead of Brisbane into sixth place and provide evidence of a recovery.

HOW THEY LINE UP

What: A-League, week 20

Where: Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford

When: 9pm tonight

TV: Live on Sky Sport 3

TAB odds: Mariners $1.42, Phoenix $7.50, Draw $4.10

Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones

Mariners (possible): Mat Ryan, Josh Rose, Patrick Zwaanswijk, Trent Sainsbury, Pedj Bojic, John Hutchinson, Nick Montgomery, Michael McGlinchey, Mile Sterjovski, Bernie Ibini, Daniel McBreen. Bench (from): Justin Pasfield, Zach Anderson, Nick Fitzgerald, Mitchell Duke, Brent Griffiths, Anthony Caceres, Brad McDonald

Phoenix (probable): Mark Paston, Ian Hogg, Andrew Durante, Michael Boxall, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Louis Fenton, Isaka Cernak, Paul Ifill, Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems. Bench: Glen Moss, Dani Sanchez, Benjamin Totori, Tyler Boyd

- The Dominion Post

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