Tougher the better, says Phoenix coach Merrick

ON THE BOOKS: New Phoenix signing Tom Doyle will start at left back tonight.
ON THE BOOKS: New Phoenix signing Tom Doyle will start at left back tonight.

The playing field is far from level as the Wellington Phoenix prepare to make their FFA Cup debut in Adelaide tonight.

The new knockout competition is modelled on England's FA Cup as the 10 A-League clubs try to avoid embarrassment against lower league outfits such as Tuggeranong United, Palm Beach and Hakoah Sydney City East.

The Phoenix have been drawn against Adelaide United in one of three all A-League matchups in the round of 32.

Despite being drawn as the "home" team, the game will be played at Marden Sports Complex, with Football Federation Australia deciding that no games would be played in New Zealand to keep travel costs down.

Phoenix general manager David Dome said the club was grateful to be included in the competition but was hopeful that the rules could be changed next year.

"The FFA Cup is a great concept, for the fans and players," said Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick.

"I prefer tough draws; the tougher the games, the better the preparation. (New signing) Nathan Burns said to me: 'I'm not used to these trips'. I said: 'don't worry, you'll get used to it, it's just part of being at the Phoenix'."

Not everything is stacked against the Phoenix, however.

Both clubs have two players away with the A-League All-Stars: Albert Riera and Manny Muscat (Phoenix) and Eugene Galekovic and Marcelo Carrusca (Adelaide) but the hosts are also missing coach Josep Gombau who is preparing for Sunday's date with Juventus in Sydney.

Matthew Ridenton takes Riera's place in midfield while Michael Boxall, Louis Fenton and Josh Brindell-South are all options to fill in for Muscat at right back.

Midfielder Alex Rodriguez (groin) did not train yesterday and a decision on his fitness will be made before kickoff.

If Rodriguez is ruled out, Boxall is likely to play as a defensive midfielder.

There is also a question mark over Burns who, as of last night, was still waiting on his international transfer certificate.

Merrick was optimistic the FFA would clear Burns in time for the game.

Another new signing, Tom Doyle, retains his place at left back.

"But the spot is never guaranteed so all I can do is just keep my head down and keep improving," Doyle said.

"I've got a long way to go if I'm going to make football a career, rather than just a two-year stint. I'm very excited because I've never played against an A-League team. There's a bit of nerves but I'm just so happy to be seen as up to standard for that left back role.

"It's pretty cool that I've got the licence to get forward; it's just the tracking back which is the tough bit. I'm getting used to it and I love the style we play. I think it's going to take us to the finals."

Meanwhile, the FFA will reportedly make a ruling on Michael McGlinchey's status today.

The World Game website reported that the dispute between the Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners was expected to be resolved at today's arbitration hearing.

McGlinchey, 27, wants to play for the Phoenix.

The Dominion Post