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There might be a predictability about his team, but certainly not Ricki Herbert.
Presented with a gilt-edged opportunity to claim a moral A-League victory yesterday, Herbert instead tore into the team and suggested it would have been a travesty if Sydney FC had not hung on to win 2-1 at Westpac Stadium.
Two-nil up, but down to 10 men after captain Terry McFlynn was sent off for a second bookable offence, Sydney were completely under the pump for the final few minutes. Phoenix striker Jeremy Brockie grabbed a goal back from the penalty spot, in added time, and might have won the match with two freekicks and then a header.
But Herbert was having none of it. The Phoenix had been rubbish till then and, for once, he was quite prepared to say so.
"Poor, absolutely right across the board," was Herbert's immediate assessment of the Phoenix.
"We failed to perform anywhere today. We didn't look after the ball, everyone looked flat, we got no rotation out of midfield and ended up going long [with our passes] and [were] not good enough today."
Sydney came to Wellington without star players Alessandro Del Piero and Brett Emerton and in last place on the A-League table. Having already lost to the Phoenix at Westpac this season, the visitors ought to have posed little threat.
Instead Sydney, with new coach Frank Farina in the dugout for the first time, looked like the team who were coming into this match on the back of two wins and a draw.
Herbert had no real idea why his team hadn't fronted in their customary manner. All he knew was that they were bad and would have to be a heck of a lot better when they play second-placed Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium on Sunday.
Herbert also indicated that second-half substitutes Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd would be right in the mix for starting spots in Adelaide. The pair were introduced in the 54th minute yesterday, in a clear show of dissatisfaction with the tried and true.
Herbert said he preferred picking a "stable" XI but performances like yesterday's indicated that there was no point holding Fenton and Boyd back.
"They got us going slightly but, at the end of the day, any result would have been an injustice today," he said.
Things had actually begun fairly well for the Phoenix. Paul Ifill looked lively and presented a useful volleying chance to Brockie in the 29th minute. It would have been some goal if Brockie had scored it, but his effort sailed wide.
But that was that. Sydney fullback Sebastian Ryall popped up unmarked at a corner to head his team into the lead on the stroke of halftime, before striker Ryan Grant beautifully took an opportunity in the 69th minute.
McFlynn's slide-rule pass put Grant behind the Phoenix defenders, where he expertly curled his shot past a diving Mark Paston.
Sydney sat back and nearly got punished for it after McFlynn's dismissal.
Brockie looked to have snatched a draw in added time, but Sydney goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic sprang to his left to palm Brockie's header away.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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