Injury concerns ease for Wellington Phoenix

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 03/01/2013

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Injury concerns over Wellington Phoenix players Leo Bertos and Alex Smith have eased, providing coach Ricki Herbert with some relief as the A-League club attempts to remedy their woeful away form at the Melbourne Victory on Saturday.

All Whites international Bertos and the American import were both late casualties in the Phoenix's 2-1 loss to the Brisbane Roar on Tuesday night and it was initially feared the duo had sustained potentially serious facial injuries.

Bertos was dazed by a head clash with Roar striker Nick Fitzgerald in the 85th minute, while Smith copped what appeared to be an accidental elbow from goalkeeper Michael Theo as the pair leapt to contest a cross.

Herbert originally thought Bertos and Smith might have to be replaced in the tour party but the winger was cleared soon after the game and scans determined Smith had suffered bruising - not a fractured cheekbone.

While those fitness updates are encouraging, talented rookie striker Tyler Boyd will be unavailable for the round 15 clash at AAMI Park after he was red- carded for the first time in his debut season.

Boyd picked up a booking in the 45th minute and was marched by referee Tim McGilchrist following a mistimed challenge on Brisbane defender Shane Stefanutto.

The 18-year-old's exit left the Phoenix a man down with 27 minutes remaining and they ultimately finished the game with nine on the field because Herbert had made all his substitutions before Bertos was assisted to the sideline.

Herbert had no quibble with Boyd's red card and subsequent one-match suspension.

"The cards have been dished and he's going to have to serve the penalty for it. It's a steep learning curve; it's harsh for him but certainly a strong lesson to learn from," Herbert said.

The Phoenix, who relocated to Melbourne yesterday, face another possible setback before they take on the fourth-placed Victory, if the A-League's match review panel choose to examine an incident involving Fitzgerald and Manny Muscat in the 73rd minute.

Muscat appeared to elbow Fitzgerald in the head twice as he battled to retain possession and although McGilchrist and the referee's assistants took no action, feisty Albanian striker Besart Berisha was booked for arguing with the Australian.

Berisha opened the scoring in the 14th minute when he beat the impressive Mark Paston after wrong-footing Ben Sigmund, but the Phoenix drew level eight minutes before the break when a quickly taken free kick caught the Roar off guard.

Jeremy Brockie found himself in space and unleashed a stunning 25-metre drive that bent into the right-hand corner.

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Although pleased to start the New Year with another classic strike, the New Zealand international was disappointed his 10th goal in nine games could not contribute to a much-needed road win for the Phoenix who dropped a place to seventh.

"There was a lot of pride in that performance but it's pretty frustrating when you work hard and come away with nothing," he said.

Brockie had an opportunity to volley the Phoenix in front in the 54th minute after he chested down a long ball and let fly, but the advancing Theo made an excellent save. Striker Ben Halloran then produced the match-winner four minutes later with a right-footed shot that left Paston stranded.

The Phoenix have banked only four of a possible 21 points so far this campaign, outside of Westpac Stadium, so Herbert was naturally frustrated after watching his side fail to win at the Roar's headquarters for the first time.

"We had some great chances in the first half and if we'd taken those, things might have looked a little different," Herbert said.

- Fairfax Media

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