The Wellington Phoenix's attempt to showcase a more appetising brand of football means their fan base may have to accept an unpalatable truth: that elusive A-League title may again be out of reach this season.
An uncompromising defender during his club and international career, Ricki Herbert has never been renowned for taking a backward step - yet after becoming the competition's most experienced coach in Melbourne last night he conceded a fourth successive post-season campaign could not be guaranteed.
His record 152nd game in charge provided little cause for celebration at AAMI Park as the Melbourne Victory engineered a 2-0 victory that was more compelling than the score line indicated.
Former Phoenix prodigy Marco Rojas set up the 42nd minute opener for Marcos Flores and he then delivered the killer blow shortly after halftime to extend his former club's winless streak in Victoria to 12 games - a sequence that includes three matches against the Melbourne Heart.
The Phoenix were earnest for the opening 40 minutes but once Rojas delivered a perfect cross for the Argentinian to bury past Mark Paston, a two-game road trip was likely to end in familiar circumstances.
Rojas then ensured the Phoenix would drop to eighth when he tapped in a rebound off an upright to join Danny McBreen and Jeremy Brockie on 10 goals as the league's top-scorers.
Herbert started his post-match appraisal lamenting the concession of two "simple" goals.
"Not marking in the box for the first one," he grumbled, adding: "If our strikers got that time and opportunity we'd probably be able to do the same."
However, Brockie, Benjamin Totori, Louis Fenton and Stein Huysegems were never afforded the same luxury.
Huysegems fired a decent shot at Nathan Coe on the half hour, his replacement Cameron Lindsay's curler forced a rare save from the Victory custodian in the dying stages and finally Brockie directed a free header wide in the last minute of regulation.
As he contemplated collecting four of a possible 12 points during a congested the festive season - and just one win from eight away games in 2012-13 - Herbert issued a dire warning to supporters.
"We've made a collective stance to change things and be better (more attractive) and that's certainly going to take a bit of time.
"If we do have a little blip season ... Adelaide had one last year, Sydney's had then, Melbourne's had them, Central Coast's had them."
Adelaide United finished the regular season third in 2010-11 and eliminated the Phoenix before losing the minor semifinal to Perth - last season they plummeted to 11th and now under John Kosmina they are sitting pretty in second after 15 rounds.
Herbert said his squad had embraced the break with conservatism but a philosophy based on the development of young players would take time to bed in.
"This club is now going to build on some of our young players. It's a chance for them to come in and play a completely different way.
"That might take some time. This is a three-to-five year plan.
"The requirements are completely different physically and technically, we'll just keep building.
"It's a two-edged sword for us. We want a team in Wellington that can win the A-League and we're supporting that with a better footballing side that gives us a chance of achieving that."
Herbert reiterated a new young player would be brought in during this month's transfer window and he effectively has a three-month trial to justify a longer-term deal.
Although the emphasise is on youth, Herbert conceded the absence of old heads Manny Muscat (suspended) and an injured Paul Ifill made life easier for the Victory.
"Our depth is limited from an experience point of view. Manny's out, Ifill's out and they're two influential players when we're going through this transition," he said.
Tim Brown also left a void in midfield since he retired last season to continue his studies in England.
"Our fans would reflect back now and go 'Wow, where's those eight or nine goals that Brownie got out in midfield?'.
"Jeremy's having a good season for us and let's hope that continues but coming out of midfield, we've been a little bit short to date."
- Fairfax Media
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