Herbert's pickle nothing new

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 12:41 13/11/2012

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OPINION: Those who reckon Ricki Herbert is currently facing the biggest test of his coaching career might require a deeper memory.

The Wellington Phoenix are certainly in a spot of bother, and Herbert is under pressure to quickly get them out of it.

He will also have the All Whites in the back of his mind - the national team has hardly inspired confidence results-wise in the past 12 months, or even since the 2010 World Cup if you look closely at their results - and the next 12 months could well define the legacy he leaves.

But the pickle Herbert currently finds himself in is nothing new, both at club and international level, and while he has critics, he usually finds a way to silence them. One win, two draws and three consecutive losses paints a pretty dull picture of the Phoenix's start to this A-League season. But it's certainly not the out-and-out worst start they've had and Herbert must draw on that experience.

In 2008-09, their second season in the league, they started with two draws and three losses and didn't win a match until round six, but went on to finish sixth and were in the finals hunt until the final round of the season.

And it's easy to forget, given they went on to finish the regular season in fourth spot, but last season they actually had an identical record to this year after the first six rounds - one win, two draws and three losses.

They went on to draw their next match, too, and after seven rounds were ninth of 10 teams, with just six points.

On each of those occasions, Herbert managed to get a response from his players, and there is no doubt he has the cattle to do it again this season. Former All Whites captain and Fairfax Media columnist Danny Hay agrees with this writer that the current Phoenix squad is the best balanced, on paper, that has ever been assembled, and should at least be challenging for the title at the end of the season. So the pressure is on Herbert to get them into that position.

It will certainly be another big test of his coaching ability, but he's faced just as big if not bigger tests before, and with less talent to work with than he does now. We await to see what the response is this time around.

He'll need to get one, because his team shouldn't be flailing around at the bottom of the league and, as you'll see with the crowd figures, patience isn't something your average punter is known for possessing (unless they're from Liverpool, of course).

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Things aren't getting any easier for the Phoenix, who are away to two top-four teams - Newcastle and Perth - the next two weeks. That's not to mention the disruption caused by having their All Whites and Herbert away in China for Thursday's international friendly.

Herbert (or more so his assistants this week) needs to find a way to plug their defence on the road, which has looked hugely vulnerable in recent weeks. It's uncharacteristic, given defence has generally been their strength, but of major concern. They also lacked creativity in Sunday's 1-0 home loss to Central Coast, who were well worth their win.

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David Gallop had his first official press conference in Sydney this week as chief executive of Football Federation Australia, the former NRL boss having taken over from Ben Buckley. Gallop revealed himself to be a West Bromwich Albion fan and a "closet" football follower, something he had to keep on the down-low during his 10 years in charge of rugby league's leading club competition.

"I remember in 2005 I was at Homebush Bay when John Aloisi kicked us into the World Cup finals," Gallop recalled. "I remember jumping up then sitting down very quickly. With my rugby league hat on I thought 'uh-oh, this could be bad - the sleeping giant just got a giant prod'."

He's joined the FFA at a pretty good time with the A-League, if not the Phoenix, riding the crest of a wave.

- The Dominion Post

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