Illness set to deny Basalaj a start for Phoenix

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 12/10/2012
Jacob Spoonley
PHIL REID/FAIRFAX NZ
TAKING HIS CHANCE: Goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley, left, is set for a surprise appearance for the Wellington Phoenix against the Melbourne Heart on Sunday after illness struck down his rival Scott Basalaj, right.

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Schoolboy star Scott Basalaj has lost 6kg and a guaranteed A-League debut thanks to a mystery illness picked up on the Phoenix's pre-season tour of India.

With Mark Paston and Glen Moss in Tahiti, the St Pat's Silverstream student would have been a certainty to start in goal against the Heart on Sunday.

Auckland City's Jacob Spoonley, who was on the books for the Phoenix's inaugural season in 2007-08, now appears set to jump the queue.

"Scott's been laid down with a bug that he probably got in India and he's lost six kilos in the last three weeks," Phoenix goalkeeping coach Jonathan Gould said.

"I mean even in training, you do a couple of reps in training and his recovery has not been fantastic after six reps. When you consider he's then got to go through a pretty vigorous warmup leading into the game, it's how you recover and mentally it's his first game as well."

The team head to Melbourne today and former Celtic goalkeeper Gould said he wouldn't make a decision on his preferred shot-stopper until after training tomorrow.

If Basalaj was 100 per cent fit, Gould said the job would have been his but Spoonley looked to have the inside running at yesterday's session.

The 25-year-old was New Zealand's first choice goalkeeper at the 2007 under-20 World Cup and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Spoonley has been stuck in the national league since then, but Gould had been impressed with his efforts in training this week.

"I think it's maturity. I hadn't seen him for three or four years and you look at Jacob as a 25-year-old, he's a man now. Goalkeepers take a long time to mature because it's experience and it's the mental ability to cope with the demands of the job. He's played in front of 60,000 and knows what this is all about."

The Phoenix are without six of the players who started in the impressive, opening round 2-0 win over Sydney FC.

Academy players Basalaj, Luke Rowe and Tom Biss have been named in the squad, with Rowe set to start at left back and midfielder Biss on the bench.

Experienced midfielder Vince Lia, who missed the Sydney game, came through training unscathed and will probably start the match at AAMI Park.

His presence was a boost for assistant coach Chris Greenacre, who will take the reins in the absence of Ricki Herbert.

"Vinnie is massive for this club, not only his experience but also as an individual and as a player, the respect he's got within the group," Greenacre said.

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"Vinnie's been a big player for us over the past few years so we're all delighted to get him back and to see him finish a session is great news for us.

"Looking at how the squad is depleted a little bit, then obviously a player of that calibre, you really want him out there."

Meanwhile, the immediate playing future of Mirjan Pavlovic is in doubt.

Phoenix yesterday released a statement saying the striker had a "medical condition which restricts his ability to play professional football".

The club said it would make no further comment until Pavlovic's condition was resolved.

The 23-year-old, who spent the pre-season on loan with Sydney United, has played 25 games and scored two goals for the Phoenix.

He comes off contract at the end of this season.

Phoenix squad: Jacob Spoonley, Luke Rowe, Andrew Durante, Michael Boxall, Cameron Lindsay, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Alex Smith, Louis Fenton, Paul Ifill, Stein Huysegems, Scott Basalaj, Tom Biss, Ricardo Clarke, Tyler Boyd

- The Dominion Post

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