Struggling Phoenix could shed players

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 15/01/2013
Lucas Pantelis
SHANE WENZLICK/Fairfax NZ
SURE TO GO: Lucas Pantelis.

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Some senior Phoenix players could be shown the door at the end of the season as coach Ricki Herbert tries to map out a new direction for the struggling club.

Nine players are off contract at the end of the season.

The crocked Lucas Pantelis will definitely be released, Jimmy Downey will almost certainly be released while Benjamin Totori will almost certainly have a one-year extension activated.

That leaves Herbert with big decisions to make on All Whites Mark Paston, Leo Bertos, Tony Lochhead and Ian Hogg, as well as imports Dani Sanchez and Alex Smith.

The Phoenix, attempting to play a more attractive brand of football this season, are last after 16 rounds of the A-League.

"Some will come on the journey, some won't," Herbert said.

"I guess at the end of the day that's a recruitment thing: we've got a few players that will go into contract negotiations, that's always a difficult time of year now. To play that way you've got to have certain types of players."

One of the biggest dilemmas is what to do at left back.

Herbert is unhappy with Lochhead's form and new signing Hogg is under consideration for Saturday's dance of the desperates with Sydney FC.

"We're going to have to see if he's good enough in the league so there definitely will be a chance for him, whether it's Sydney or back at home or whatever, he'll definitely get some game time," Herbert said.

Lochhead's crossing has been poor this season and Herbert's patience is finally running out.

"I think it's like a centre half who's trying to get his timing right again with his heading, or a striker who's trying to hit the back of the net. It's no different with a wide player really. He's had quite a few chances with it."

Hogg will play for the Phoenix reserves against Manawatu tomorrow, as will the suspended Manny Muscat and injured duo Paul Ifill and Glen Moss.

Herbert said Ifill would play 30 minutes and was probably two weeks away from a return to the A-League.

Herbert looked deflated after the team's third straight loss but he found an unlikely ally in Wanderers coach Tony Popovic.

"It's a difficult place to come," Popovic said. "They're a good side here.

"I've got a lot of respect for this club and Ricki Herbert because when you're in the playoffs three consecutive years, when I think of the players that they can get here, it's not easy. They have good young players and we saw their training ground and it's difficult, it's windy, it's difficult conditions to train and play in.

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"I think they do a great job in getting a good side here."

AT A GLANCE

Off contract at season end: Mark Paston, Leo Bertos, Tony Lochhead, Ian Hogg, Dani Sanchez, Alex Smith, Jimmy Downey, Lucas Pantelis, Benjamin Totori. Contracted for 2013-14: Paul Ifill, Stein Huysegems, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Michael Boxall, Cameron Lindsay.

Contracted for 2014-15: Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Jeremy Brockie, Glen Moss, Louis Fenton, Tyler Boyd.

- The Dominion Post

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