Full marks for substance but a lack of style

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2012
Manny Muscat
KENT BLYCHENDEN/Fairfax NZ
TIGHT BATTLE: Phoenix midfielder Manny Muscat challenges Western Sydney's Shinji Ono during a rugged match in the Wellington wind.

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It's a shame Alessandro Del Piero has already been to Westpac Stadium this season.

The Wellington Phoenix host Del Piero's Sydney FC side on Sunday and desperately need something to attract people through the gate.

Sadly, the novelty factor of having the former Italian captain in town probably won't do it and nor will the football the Phoenix played in beating A-League newcomers the Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 yesterday.

It's no secret the the Phoenix need 10,000 punters to break even on match days. Yesterday just 5405 bothered - the worst attendance of the the season.

There's no point in the club's owners - Welnix - moaning about the weather being an impediment because, in all honesty, the miserable conditions are one of the team's greatest assets. Visiting sides, especially those with footballing pretensions, absolutely hate the place.

The inevitable gale turns the contest into a physical - rather than technical - one, which could hardly suit the Phoenix more.

The Wanderers were awful yesterday, but then they aren't a great side. Under the coaching of former Crystal Palace and Socceroos defender Tony Popovic, they're well organised, but offer virtually nothing on attack, as evidenced by the five goals they've scored in nine games.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert described yesterday's match as a carve up, in which his team was several goals better than the visitors. He's more than entitled to that view, even if the only goal his team scored was a cross that got blown in by the wind.

The "goal" scorer, Jeremy Brockie, did get one intended shot on target, and a header, but Vince Lia's 90th- minute strike was the only other effort that required saving.

Herbert took the All Whites to an unbeaten run at the 2010 World Cup and will probably lead the Phoenix to the A-League playoffs again this season. In retirement he will be remembered as probably the finest manager this country has seen.

In the meantime, watching the Phoenix is hardly a pleasure and you couldn't call football enthusiasts shirkers for not wanting to put themselves through it yesterday.

The record books will not identify how Herbert's teams played, just their record. The Phoenix's is good and they came into this match on the back of a win and a draw on the road.

But the paying public clearly want a bit more style to go with the substance the Phoenix have an abundance of.

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- The Dominion Post

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