Phoenix caught in playing style clash

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 19/01/2013

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Striker Jeremy Brockie has shed more light on why the Wellington Phoenix players have looked so confused.

It is one thing to be told, by a part-owner, that you are going to completely overhaul the way you have always played, part-way through a season, but quite another when you are not told about it in advance.

More than a month has gone by since the players were told route-one football was out and a short, nifty passing game was in. That has yielded one win from five starts, and the team heads into tonight's clash with Sydney FC having lost three matches in a row.

There have been periods of useful football played in these last few games - some cracking Brockie goals included. The rest of the time the Phoenix have looked a shadow of their natural abrasive selves.

But, judging by Brockie's interview with a respected football website, it is little wonder the players have been unsure whether to lump the ball or treasure it.

"The first we heard anything about it was reading an article," Brockie said.

"One of owners came out and said he'd like us to play a bit more possession-based and prettier football. Obviously once that came out Ricki [coach Ricki Herbert] sat us down and talked to us."

Some people might say "fair enough" and that the Phoenix owners have every right to dictate the style of football the club plays, even without consulting the players.

But Welnix is now part of the Hurricanes' ownership consortium too, so it will be interesting to see if coach Mark Hammett gets a mid-season missive to change his preferred playing style.

Maybe he will just read about it in the paper too. The reaction from fans would be interesting.

This style saga has tended to overshadow the actual football of late, as the Phoenix quietly slipped down the table to last. That is not a place where these players want to be, or should be, so all indications are that they have circled the wagons this week and will revert stubborn resistance tonight and then try and pick Sydney FC on the break.

It is what they, and Herbert, know and do best.

To fit that style, it appears Alex Smith will join Vince Lia in a holding midfield role at Allianz Stadium, with Louis Fenton dropping to the bench. Herbert said Fenton had been doing a fine job, but he favours Smith's solidity when it comes to away fixtures like this.

Sydney are hardly flying this season themselves, but last week's last-gasp win over the Melbourne Heart has given them at least some momentum.

HOW THEY LINE UP

What: A-League Week 17

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Who: Sydney FC v Wellington Phoenix

Where and when: Allianz Stadium, Sydney at 7.30pm tonight (NZT)

Phoenix (probable): Mark Paston, Leo Bertos, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante (c), Vince Lia, Alex Smith, Dani Sanchez, Tyler Boyd, Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems. Substitutes: Glen Moss, Paul Ifill, Benjamin Totori, Louis Fenton.

- The Dominion Post

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