Wellington Phoenix set for attacking match

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014
Costa Ricans Carlos Hernandez, front, and Kenny Cunningham
KEVIN STENT
TWO OF THE BEST: Costa Ricans Carlos Hernandez, front, and Kenny Cunningham have been on fire for the Phoenix in recent matches.

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All signs point to a goalfest at Coopers Stadium tonight.

Under their new coaches Ernie Merrick and Josep Gombau, Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United have emerged as two of the A-League's most lethal attacking sides this season.

Adelaide, showcasing a new brand of passing football under former Barcelona youth coach Gombau, have scored 33 goals, the most in the league alongside Brisbane Roar.

The Phoenix, so wasteful in front of goal before Christmas, have hit their straps in 2014 and have now scored 30 times to rank equal third with Melbourne Victory.

Nineteen of those goals have come in their past eight games as Stein Huysegems, Carlos Hernandez, Kenny Cunningham and Tyler Boyd have established themselves as one of the premier attacking units in the league.

The Phoenix scored four goals last round, Adelaide had three and the past five meetings between the clubs have produced 18 goals.

"Despite us having a poor start, we've scored 30 now so we're in amongst it as goal scorers in the league," said Merrick, who is expected to name an unchanged XI from the one that beat Central Coast Mariners 4-1.

"It's thanks to the likes of Stein who's been outstanding, Carlos, Kenny's becoming regular [on the scoresheet] and Tyler's putting himself in the right positions as well, to get something out of a game. They're combining really well and beginning to put lots of goalscoring chances together."

In particular Huysegems, the league's leading goalscorer with 10, and Hernandez, who leads the competition in "scorer points" (six goals, eight assists) have struck up a wonderful understanding.

The Mariners led the Phoenix 1-0 at halftime in Gosford but in the second stanza the Belgian and the Costa Rican took turns in the No 10 role and confused their opposition markers. "Stein and Carlos can actually interchange now," Merrick said.

"Stein, Carlos and Kenny have built up this really good relationship where they understand each other's movement patterns and expect passes and through balls."

A win tonight would propel the seventh-placed Phoenix into fourth while a draw would boost them to sixth.

Fifth-placed Adelaide, who lost 4-3 to Victory last round in one of the most entertaining games of the season, have been weakened by the loss of senior defender Jon McKain (suspended) and Argentine playmaker Marcelo Carrusca (adductor).

But they remain a formidable attacking force, especially on home turf.

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Spanish forward Sergio Cirio scored a hat-trick against the Victory, the first A-League player to do so in a losing effort.

Like the Phoenix, Adelaide are getting excellent value from their imports, with Carrusca, Fabio Ferreira, Jeronimo and Isaias all pulling their weight.

"I think it's been a year of good imports," Merrick said.

"Clubs generally are going for younger players and more ball playing players. There's no doubt Cirio's a good player and has got skill. I think all the clubs in the A-League are making shrewder choices when bringing visa players in and Cirio's another one."

Victory allowed Adelaide to dominate possession and were successful in hurting them on the fast break.

But Merrick also likes his side to hold onto the ball and was coy about his tactical approach tonight.

"There's four methods of attacking really. There's attacking the flanks, attacking the middle, build-up type possession play or fast break. I don't focus on any particular one, the boys have got to see it on the day and that's how I operate my strategy. It's just something we continually work on, all four ways of attacking opposition and having options."

HOW THEY LINE UP

Adelaide (from): Eugene Galekovic, Michael Zullo, Nigel Boogaard, Osama Malik, Tarek Elrich, Cameron Watson, Isaias, Sergio Cirio, Fabio Ferreira, Jeronimo, Bruce Djite, Paul Izzo, Jordan Elsey, Michael Marrone, Jake Barker-Daish, Ryan Griffiths, Daniel Bowles, Awer Mabil

Phoenix (from): Glen Moss, Reece Caira, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Michael Boxall, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Carlos Hernandez, Kenny Cunningham, Tyler Boyd, Stein Huysegems, Lewis Italiano, Josh Brindell-South, Matthew Ridenton, Roy Krishna, Jeremy Brockie, Jason Hicks, Hamish Watson Referee: Lucien Laverdure

- Fairfax Media

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