Tough season but Durante keen to stay

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2014
Ernie Merrick and Andrew Durante
KEVIN STENT/ Fairfax NZ
SOMETHING TO PROVE: Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante needs to impress coach Ernie Merrick (left) to retain the captaincy.

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Andrew Durante wants to continue as Wellington Phoenix captain next season, but he concedes the club's defensive record is unacceptable.

The 31-year-old All Whites defender has captained the Phoenix since his arrival in Wellington in 2008.

He has enjoyed the highs of three straight A-League finals appearances, endured the lows of last season's wooden spoon flop and was now riding a rollercoaster campaign under new coach Ernie Merrick.

After a mid-season revival the wheels have fallen off and with two games to play the Phoenix were eighth with the worst defensive record in the league.

A fullback injury curse hasn't helped: Louis Fenton, Reece Caira, Michael Boxall, Manny Muscat, Josh Brindell-South, Shaun Timmins and Leo Bertos have all been used in that position.

But Durante understood there were no excuses for conceding 43 goals in 25 games.

''It's something we definitely need to tighten up for next season. The style of football we play is really attacking, we hold a really high line and that's great, I think it's exciting. But we have conceded a lot and it's not good enough. I'm at the back and I've got to take responsibility for that.''

Durante gave away the penalty in Sunday's 1-0 loss to Adelaide United, which left the Phoenix requiring a miracle to qualify for the playoffs.

He was absolutely gutted after the match, but remained motivated, not drained, by his leadership responsibilities.

''I feel losses hard, I wouldn't say more than others, but I take it really hard when we don't win games and I want to be playing finals football. I love being the captain of the club. It's an honour, it's not something I take lightly. It's a big responsibility and I take that on my shoulders.''

In keeping with a frustrating season, Muscat was suspended for Sunday's visit to Sydney FC, while Ben Sigmund and Vince Lia were in doubt with minor strains.

Carlos Hernandez trained well yesterday and was in contention to start while Jacob Spoonley would replace Lewis Italiano (hand) as back-up goalkeeper.

Merrick already has one eye on next season and was looking to recruit two experienced attacking players to bolster the squad.

Negotiations with off-contract striker Stein Huysegems were ongoing while Merrick also had to make decisions on the futures of Paul Ifill, Luke Adams, Hamish Watson, Justin Gulley, Brindell-South, Timmins and Bertos.

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There were plans to play 10-15 pre-season games.

''We've been invited by a couple of countries overseas, we've got clubs that want to come over here,'' Merrick said.

''If we can get a really good 18-week pre-season under our belts, and we get everyone back to full fitness, I think this team could take on anyone.''

Phoenix general manager David Dome also hoped to lock in at least one pre-season home game against an English Premier League club, with West Ham United, Everton and Newcastle United all potential opponents.

''If we can attract some Premier League teams to come here and play then that's incredible,'' Durante said.

''It's great that the Phoenix are potentially going to get a couple of teams over here and give the New Zealand public a chance to see some of the best players in the world.''

- The Dominion Post

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