Phoenix want to return to winning ugly

SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS: Ricki Herbert and the Wellington Phoenix look to end a three-match losing streak against Sydney FC on the road.
SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS: Ricki Herbert and the Wellington Phoenix look to end a three-match losing streak against Sydney FC on the road.

Two of the Wellington Phoenix's senior pros believe it's time to sacrifice the style and get back to the substance that the A-League club's reputation was built upon.

Tiring of the losses that have followed a move to "total football", winger Paul Ifill and right-back Leo Bertos said the bottom-of-the-table Phoenix should revert to winning ugly - starting with tomorrow night's away clash with ninth-placed Sydney FC.

Bertos said the players had supported the suggestion from their ownership group and coach Ricki Herbert that they play with more panache, in the hope of attracting more fans.

"We've tried to do that, but it hasn't been working as we would've liked. We haven't been winning, or playing what people might call better football," Bertos said.

"It was a conscious effort by the club to find out why the crowds had gone away. Our crowds have halved at home - even though we started the season well the crowds were still low after that.

"We tried to change a few things, but now we're at the stage where we need to win games if we want to get to the finals - no matter how we do it."

That's at odds with what Herbert said following Sunday's 2-0 loss to the Western Sydney Wanderers, when he reiterated that "we're not going to change".

The whole idea is laudable, because crowds haven't been flash. But the flaw in the plan has been the lack of creative players that Herbert has at his disposal. That was exacerbated by the absence of Ifill, following ankle surgery a month ago.

Having proved his fitness with a 30-minute appearance for the club's reserve team on Wednesday night, the Englishman has been included in the 15-man Phoenix squad that flew to Sydney today.

After three successive losses, Ifill's return couldn't be more timely. If anyone was capable of embracing total football and turning it into a reality, then it would be him.

Instead he echoed Bertos' call for a return to old ways.

"It's not been great, the last few weeks," Ifill said after yesterday's training session at Newtown Park.

"I don't think we've played particularly badly, but the results have been going against us. In saying that, the second half last week was probably the worst I've seen."

Not because the team doesn't have the ability to play well, he said. More that everyone lacks a bit of confidence at the moment.

"There's a lot of talk about the new style, but some of the things we've seen - getting away from the style - it's just fundamentals. Our defending's been poor, and I'm not just blaming the back four.

"It starts at the front and we've just got to work harder all over the pitch, and go back to basics and get that right first. Then you can start playing pretty football.

"You've got to earn the right to play this so-called total football, you can't just go in there and be Barcelona from the first minute. It's impossible."

Ifill said the club had always thrived on adopting an "us against them" mentality and dropping to last on the table had reignited that.

"[It's] when the chips are down that we really start. We've been here enough times before to know we normally get out of it," he said.

"This is probably the deepest hole we've been in, but I fancy us to get out of it. I'm not too worried yet."

Goalkeeper Glen Moss is also in the squad of 15. Griffin McMaster and Cameron Lindsay are the two players who drop out to accommodate Moss and Ifill.

The Dominion Post