What a disappointing season this is turning out to be for the Wellington Phoenix.
Forget grand plans of a top-two finish; Saturday's seventh loss of the campaign leaves the club facing an uphill battle just to scrape into the top-six A-League finals.
But more disappointing than the performance were the comments of coach Ricki Herbert following the 2-0 loss to Marco Rojas's Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park.
Apparently Herbert, who became th league's longest-serving coach in Melbourne, is now masterminding a "three to five-year plan" to turn the Phoenix into Barcelona.
"If we do have a little blip this season - Adelaide had one last year, Sydney's had them, Melbourne's had them, Central Coast have had them," Herbert said.
"This competition's getting better and better and you've got to be able to go with that. I guess it's a little two-edged sword for us.
"We want to have a team in Wellington that can win the A-League - that's very, very clear. To do that we're supporting that with a better footballing side that gives us a chance of achieving that. The requirements are completely different - physically, technically and right across the board."
Herbert has had a good run.
He helped build the Phoenix from the rubble of two failed Auckland franchises and has earned respect across the Tasman by qualifying for three finals series.
But it appears he has taken the side as far as he can and New Zealand football is crying out for some fresh ideas and fresh players.
The desire to play more attractive, possession-based football is both necessary and admirable but Herbert has no track record in being able to execute it.
The Phoenix need better quality players if they are to keep the ball on the deck and play out from the back against the league's top sides.
But their hands are tied this season, with the salary cap full and just one young player set to come in during the transfer window this week.
Real change also requires a full off-season to bed in the tactical and technical tweaks and unfortunately the Phoenix are attempting a mid-season personality overhaul with predictably poor results.
Herbert's "blip" quote also sends a terrible message to potential spectators ahead of Sunday's home game against impressive rookies Western Sydney Wanderers - who under Tony Popovic haven't needed a three to five-year plan to win games.
To be fair to Herbert, and for all the talk about attack, he is being let down by his defenders who have conceded some soft goals this season.
The Victory didn't have to overly extend themselves as Rojas set up an unmarked Marcos Flores for the first goal and then grabbed one himself.
Phoenix captain Andrew Durante took to Twitter to bemoan "stupid goals at stupid times" which undid "some nice football" in the first half.
Also on Saturday, Perth Glory striker Shane Smeltz scored both goals in a 2-2 draw with Sydney FC.
"I was pleased for Smeltzy," Perth coach Ian Ferguson said.
"There's a lot of people making noises about his scoring records, but he doesn't need to prove anything here. He is a goal scorer and he proved that again. The pressure was on him and people were giving him a hard time, but he stepped up and answered them."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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