Phoenix at full force face soft Western Sydney

Back home and back to full strength, the Phoenix know there are no excuses for not starting their ascent of the A-League ladder with a win over Western Sydney tomorrow.

Four points on the road have steadied the nerves after a three-game losing streak and the odds are stacked in the Phoenix's favour at Westpac Stadium.

Import strikers Benjamin Totori and Stein Huysegems have recovered from their ankle injuries, and the Wanderers' best player, midfielder Aaron Mooy, is away with the Socceroos.

Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic has built a solid defence but - despite the presence of former Japan World Cup star Shinji Ono - the visitors have the most impotent attack in the league, with just five goals from eight games.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert confirmed the Phoenix would stick with a 4-3-3 formation and Vince Lia, Manny Muscat and Alex Smith in midfield.

"We'll just keep building on that," Herbert said. "It gives us a chance now, with four of the next five at home, to do a little bit more work on the training pitch and no players heading away [on international duty].

"So everyone's back, fit and healthy and competition's good."

Former Belgium international Huysegems started the season strongly but missed the win in Newcastle before having a short burst off the bench in Perth.

He ran with the first team at training yesterday and is likely to start in place of Louis Fenton.

Rising Kiwi winger Fenton has impressed in his debut season but has had a heavy workload and may be used as a bench weapon.

Solomon Islands international Totori missed the Glory game after rolling an ankle but also trained freely and is set to take his regular place on the bench.

Huysegems said the change in system would allow the likely front three of himself, Jeremy Brockie and Paul Ifill to do what they do best - attack.

"For the players who play on the top, we are left more in a position to stay up front and when we have the ball we can make very fast transitions. I think we have the opportunities also to switch," Huysegems said. "I'm fit again so hopefully I can be a part of the XI. That's good, to have variation."

Meanwhile, back-up goalkeeper Glen Moss is likely to need surgery after being diagnosed with a potential sports hernia.

Moss will see a surgeon next week and Victorian State League goalkeeper Griffin McMaster will sit on the bench tomorrow. The 29-year-old has a three-week contract that is likely to be extended if Moss goes under the knife.

Herbert had wanted to promote Kiwi academy goalkeeper Scott Basalaj but transfer regulations prevented it. Because it is an Australian competition, he required an international transfer certificate but the window is closed until January 17.

The window was open when the Phoenix played Melbourne Heart in round two, allowing a raft of academy players to step in for the absent All Whites.

"We always knew it was the case," Phoenix general manager David Dome said.

"We've been working with both the FFA [Football Federation Australia] and New Zealand Football. We're putting together a submission to go to Fifa, to clarify all that for us. We're certainly very hopeful that in future all these things will be clarified and we'll be able to call up our FSE [football school of excellence] players as and when required."

Dome said the Phoenix had been granted an exemption until mid-December to sign a replacement for Mirjan Pavlovic, who was released by mutual consent.

Herbert is hunting for an attack-minded midfielder, with Tom Biss (academy) and Aaron Clapham (Canterbury United) both options.


What: A-League, week 9

Where: Westpac Stadium

When: 4.30pm tomorrow

TV: Live on Sky Sport 1

Referee: Matt Gillett

Phoenix (likely): Mark Paston, Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Tony Lochhead, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Alex Smith, Paul Ifill, Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems. Bench: Griffin McMaster, Louis Fenton, Benjamin Totori, Tyler Boyd. Western Sydney (from): Ante Covic, Jerome Polenz, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Iacopo La Rocca, Michael Beauchamp, Shannon Cole, Adam D'Apuzzo, Shinji Ono, Tarek Elrich, Mark Bridge, Dino Kresinger, Jerrad Tyson, Labinot Haliti, Mateo Poljak, Tahj Minniecon, Joey Gibbs, Kwabena Appiah-Kubi, Reece Caira, Jason Trifiro.

The Dominion Post