The Wellington Phoenix have suffered a major blow with key midfielder Albert Riera suffering a groin tear at a training session today.
Riera has been nursing a tight groin for most of the season yet in his debut A-League campaign has emerged as arguably the Phoenix's most important player.
Disappointed Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick said Riera would be assessed tomorrow ahead of Sunday's visit to the Newcastle Jets.
But the Spanish import is likely to be sidelined for several weeks.
''It could be, yeah,'' Merrick said.
''Deep groin muscles aren't good to deal with so it could be a little while before he's back ... It looks like Albert has torn a deep groin muscle, just at the end of training just then. So it doesn't look good ... He's been outstanding ... It is sad because he's been playing very well, he's been running the show, he's turned out to be one of the best middle midfielders in the league.''
If ruled out of the trip to Newcastle, Alex Rufer will take Riera's place in the travelling squad.
The Phoenix are already without the injured Paul Ifill, Louis Fenton and Leo Bertos, while Kenny Cunningham and Michael Boxall are suspended for the Jets match.
Fullbacks Josh Brindell-South and Reece Caira are vying for Boxall's spot, while Matthew Ridenton and Jason Hicks appear the frontrunners to come in for Riera and Cunningham.
The in-form Vince Lia is likely to move into Riera's vital role of screening the back four.
''It's a leadership role,'' Merrick said.
''Vince Lia and Carlos Hernandez have got to step up because we've lost Kenny who's an experienced international player as well. So it's leadership in the midfield and under pressure you soon discover who your leaders are and who are not... I'm just loathe to change the back four too much because already I've got to bring someone in for Michael Boxall and I don't like changing 50 per cent of the backline.
"So I don't know whether I'm going to move Manny [Muscat] or not, the backline have just been outstanding with Manny, Ben [Sigmund], Dura [Andrew Durante] and Michael and I don't know if I want to change that.''
- The Dominion Post
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