Test for Wellington Phoenix's talent pool

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 08/10/2012
Wellington Phoenix std
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ
TWO-MAN TANGO: The Phoenix’s Manny Muscat gets tangled up with Sydney FC’s Alessandro Del Piero in Wellington on Saturday.

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The Wellington Phoenix will be forced to hand at least four players A-League debuts in a "David versus Goliath" match against the Melbourne Heart on Sunday.

Unlike most professional competitions around the world, Football Federation Australia has a policy of playing on through international windows.

With the All Whites playing Tahiti in Papeete on Saturday, and Benjamin Totori also on World Cup qualifying duty with the Solomon Islands, the Phoenix will be without seven of the squad which beat Sydney FC 2-0 last Saturday.

The defence is particularly hard hit, with goalkeepers Mark Paston and Glen Moss and defenders Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead and Leo Bertos all absent.

Phoenix academy goalkeeper Scott Basalaj will start in goal, with Auckland City's Jacob Spoonley set for a callup to the bench.

Academy left back Luke Rowe will slot in for Lochhead, while uncapped squad members Michael Boxall and Cameron Lindsay will step up at centre back and right back respectively.

With Vince Lia, Dani Sanchez, Mirjan Pavlovic and Lucas Pantelis still injured, the Phoenix will also need cover on the bench, and the likes of Tom Biss and Hamish Watson could be upgraded from the academy on one-match contracts.

"We're working through the process and finalising the details with New Zealand Football and their previous clubs," Phoenix general manager David Dome said.

"It is messy and very time consuming. To be honest it's a distraction that we didn't really want to have. We've made a number of submissions to the FFA to try and get the game rescheduled. All of them were turned down but they've been across it and they know we have to bring these players up because otherwise we won't have a team to field."

Dome described the situation as "crazy" although new A-League boss Damien de Bohun had told him the policy would be reviewed for next season.

"But potentially it could happen again in March, depending on where the All Whites are at.

"This is a David versus Goliath battle now, going to Melbourne Heart. If they go over there and get a result, they'll come back as heroes, and that's the way we're looking at it now."

The Phoenix were buoyed by Louis Fenton's debut against Sydney and there are plans to expand the academy system throughout New Zealand.

A fulltime academy coach will soon be appointed and New Zealand Olympic coach Neil Emblen appeals as the obvious and standout candidate.

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Emblen has signalled his interest in the role and will hold further discussions with Phoenix and All Whites coach Ricki Herbert this week.

"That's Ricki's call, that's his side of the business," Dome said.

"We've had a few discussions on who he wants to bring into that role so we'll review that as Ricki finalises who he wants to do the job."

With Herbert away, assistant coaches Chris Greenacre and Jonathan Gould will take the Phoenix reins this week.

"It's a huge impact to the side but we'll be there, we'll front up," Herbert said.

"We've got three points to go and get against Melbourne Heart."

The Heart posted an impressive 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory on Friday, with former Phoenix striker Dylan Macallister grabbing the winner.

And newcomers Western Sydney Wanderers showed they will be competitive with a scoreless draw on Saturday against last season's minor premiers Central Coast Mariners.

- The Dominion Post

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