Proud Phoenix ready to tackle second EPL side

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 25/07/2014
Andrew Durante
ALEX LIU/Fairfax NZ

WELL DONE DAD: Phoenix captain Andrew Durante gets a warm welcome from daughter Adalyn at Wellington Airport yesterday.

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Exhuasted giantkillers Wellington Phoenix are playing down their chances of claiming a second English Premier League scalp against Newcastle United tomorrow.

A satisfied but level-headed Phoenix squad returned to Wellington yesterday following Wednesday's stunning 2-1 upset of West Ham United in Auckland.

The result has ramped up interest in the Football United Tour after an underwhelming start in Dunedin where 9500 watched Newcastle outclass Sydney FC 4-0.

"We have to keep it in context," said Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick.

"West Ham are a very good team but they're a little bit behind us in preparation ... It's going to be very difficult recovering in three days for a game against Newcastle. They look like they're further down the track than West Ham. Newcastle are a terrific team."

Wednesday's game was physical by pre-season standards and under-pressure Hammers manager Sam Allardyce was unhappy with some of the Phoenix tackling.

West Ham arrived without Cheikhou Kouyate and James Tomkins, who picked up injuries at Eden Park.

"Cheik's gone for a scan just to make sure there's no more damage," Allardyce said.

"Just above the ankle where the boy [Louis Fenton] tackled him ... there were one or two naughty challenges. He was rather fortunate that he didn't break his leg, we're pleased about that."

That grumble aside, Allardyce was impressed by the Phoenix.

"Very good. Like every game we play against a team that doesn't compete at our level in the Premier League, they play their best and try extremely hard ... that's what normally happens when the big boys come into town. We're the big boys and we didn't live up to that unfortunately."

The Phoenix were well prepared for West Ham's direct style but face a different challenge in talent-laden Newcastle, who were slick in Dunedin.

The likes of Yoan Gouffran, Vurnon Anita and Ayoze Perez provide a creative cutting edge, while skipper Fabricio Coloccini barely raised a sweat in marshalling the defence against Sydney.

While no-one expects the Phoenix to go two-from-two, the team itself will demand another competitive showing in front of an expected Westpac Stadium crowd of 30,000.

"It was a massive confidence boost heading into the A-League, knowing we can play good football against a good team," said Phoenix captain and goalscorer Andrew Durante, who was greeted at the airport by wife Sarah and daughter Adalyn.

"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 try and press and win the ball high up the park. I'm sure they're going to dominate long periods so we'll have to defend well."

The Phoenix left nothing in the tank against West Ham as they held on to record a famous win.

With a short turnaround, they will rely on adrenaline and a bumper crowd to get through another 90 minutes.

"The senior players are going to have to back up again, I can't throw on youngsters to start against Newcastle, one of the best teams in the world with multi-million dollar players," Merrick said.

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The new faces all impressed against West Ham.

Uncontracted left back Tom Doyle handled the occasion as he firmed his case for a spot on the A-League roster.

Midfielder Alex Rodriguez-Gorrin had a goal and an assist in what he described as a "dream debut" while former Socceroo Nathan Burns showcased speed and attacking intent from midfield.

Meanwhile, Football Federation Australia and Professional Footballers' Australia both kicked for touch yesterday, offering no comment regarding the Michael McGlinchey saga.

Merrick blasted the FFA, saying he was "appalled by the lack of speed and decision-making" in deciding whether the All White was under contract to the Phoenix or Central Coast Mariners.

"To leave him in limbo for this long is totally out of order and I'm hugely disappointed," Merrick said.

"Two hours before kickoff our general manager [David Dome] was trying to organise for him to play but there seems to be no movement on decision-making.

- The Dominion Post

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