Andrew Durante says the Wellington Phoenix are struggling to find the right balance between getting results and developing a more attractive style of play.
But while talk of a "total football" revolution in the capital is overblown, the skipper believes Saturday's 1-1 draw with A-League pacesetters Central Coast represents a solid foundation for a surge up the ladder after Christmas.
Club owner Gareth Morgan's recent critique of the Phoenix as "very defensive" and his desire for change set tongues wagging.
Durante emphasised his side wouldn't shed their blue-collar ethic and a move towards a more possession-based style would take time.
"We're still trying to find that balance of playing well and keeping the ball and getting results," Durante told The Dominion Post after Saturday's game, which was played in front of another worryingly small crowd of 5961 at Westpac Stadium.
"There's been opinions left, right and centre at the moment of how we should play and the style of football but we've been playing 4-3-3 for a very, very long time.
"So we've spoken about trying to be better and every day at training we want to be better. I think you can see in the way we're playing that our football is becoming a lot better.
"But nothing's really changed, we're still a hardworking team and that's a trait that we have."
The problem is the Phoenix don't really have the players to successfully implement a short-passing game.
Goalscorer Dani Sanchez is good with the ball at his feet but Manny Muscat and Vince Lia's strengths lie in winning possession and quickly shifting play out to the wide players.
That has been the Phoenix template throughout Ricki Herbert's six-year tenure and so attempts to change the team's personality overnight would almost certainly backfire.
Teenage Kiwi wingers Tyler Boyd and Louis Fenton kept the Mariners fullbacks honest with their pace and energy but they lacked conviction with their final pass or shot.
For long stretches on Saturday the Phoenix resorted to hopeful aerial balls into the box which were dealt with comfortably before lively substitute Benjamin Totori put the ball on Sanchez's head in the 85th minute.
"We're finding it hard to get that balance," Durante admitted.
"But if everyone can stay patient I'm sure that the good football and the good results will be just around the corner.
"It's up and down at the moment and I don't know why, but we're working hard at training to make us a better team. Ricki's training us quite hard and everyone wants to improve, no-one wants to be criticised and out in the press about how we're travelling."
The Phoenix remain seventh after 12 rounds, which is not good enough for a squad more talented than the one that finished fourth last season.
Sixth-placed Newcastle are three points clear after beating Sydney FC, but the Phoenix have a royal opportunity to make up ground on Thursday.
Eighth-placed Melbourne Heart will come to town "distraught" after Archie Thompson scored deep into injury time to pinch a 2-1 Victory win in Saturday's derby.
All White Marco Rojas had another superb match for the Victory, finishing a sweeping movement for their first goal and putting a slide-rule pass through to Thompson to break the Heart.
"They (the players) are distraught," said Heart coach John Aloisi.
"But we've got a game in a few days against Wellington and we've got to pick ourselves up and get on with it."
The Heart will also be without suspended centre backs Simon Colosimo and Patrick Gerhardt for the trip, making it a virtual must-win for the Phoenix.
Aloisi flagged youngster David Vrankovic and Irishman Steven Gray as their likely replacements.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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