Winning Wellington Phoenix back in town
SAM WORTHINGTON AND COLLETTE DEVLIN
A satisfied but level-headed Wellington Phoenix squad have returned to the capital as they eye another English Premier League scalp on Saturday.
The Phoenix, who finished second last in the 2013-14 A-League, stunned West Ham United 2-1 in Auckland last night, heaping more pressure on Hammers' manager Sam Allardyce, who is copping it in the British press.
The Phoenix are expecting a more difficult challenge against Newcastle United at Westpac Stadium after The Magpies made short work of Sydney FC in a 4-0 win in Dunedin on Tuesday.
Speaking at Wellington Airport this morning, Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick said a lid had been kept on celebrations last night.
"I don't impose rules and regulations and curfews," Merrick said.
"But I do expect them to be professional. I believe no-one went into the bar and had a drink. They all knew they've got to back up and be in front of a massive crowd at Westpac Stadium.
"They want to look after themselves. It would be fantastic to play in front of a sold-out stadium. The senior players are going to have to back up again - I can't throw on youngsters to start against a team like Newcastle, one of the best teams in the world with multimillion-dollar players.
"And by the way, we were trending seventh in the world on Twitter, according to these kids that tell me, seventh in the world on Twitter during the match. So we're on the worldwide football stage ... Our board have taken a huge gamble and challenge to bring out two world-class EPL clubs. It's a credit to them and hopefully, with a big crowd behind us, we might put this team on the map."
Phoenix general manager David Dome said a "disappointing" 27,500 tickets had been sold for Saturday's double-header, which kicks off with West Ham against Sydney.
"This is not on track to get the 32,000 fans the teams deserve," Dome said.
"They deserve a sellout."
Dome encouraged those considering attending the games to buy tickets earlier because gate sales would cause delays.
Phoenix captain Andrew Durante, who scored the first goal at Eden Park, was greeted at the airport by wife Sarah and daughter Adalyn.
"I don't score too many and I guess that's my comeback when the boys hammer me about not scoring too many," Durante said.
"It was a personal highlight for me. A massive confidence booster heading into the A-League season, knowing we can play good football against a good team ... It's going to be extremely difficult, backing up.
"Mentally not so much, we're going to be pumped up for hopefully a full house. We'll see how the legs handle it ... I've been fortunate to play in front of a few full houses at Westpac and there's no better experience. She'll [Adalyn] be there, cheering us on."
New Phoenix signing Alex Rodriguez-Gorrin provided the free kick for Durante's goal then scored the second himself with a top-quality finish.
"It was a dream debut to be honest, I couldn't be any happier," Rodriguez-Gorrin said.
How well will the Phoenix do in this year's A-League?