Not a peep from Phoenix hierarchy after loss

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 21/01/2013

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What did the Wellington Phoenix's ownership group make of the team coughing up the worst result in their history?

How safe is Ricki Herbert's job? These questions and more went unanswered yesterday.

Neither outspoken part-owner Gareth Morgan, nor club chairman Rob Morrison could be contacted, in the wake of Saturday night's 7-1 flogging at the hands of Sydney FC.

The team, minus captain Andrew Durante, arrived home yesterday, but no-one was available by phone.

But it's not really the playing and coaching staff that have questions to answer. It's the folk from Welnix who probably have one or two things to explain to increasingly bewildered fans.

The team they knew and loved has changed and definitely not for the better. The much talked about overhaul of the playing style has been a spectacular failure and seems highly unlikely to yield the increased crowds the owners felt would flock to total football.

Despite recent quotes to the contrary by some players, a team spokesman said last night that there was no confusion within the coaching or playing staff about the type football that's now required.

He instead referred The Dominion Post to coach Ricki Herbert's comment that the performance against Sydney was "totally unacceptable at both ends of the pitch".

It was. But why?

The midfield went missing in action, leaving central defenders Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund over-run by Sydney players and goalkeeper Mark Paston grasping at thin air on more occasions than he'd probably care to remember.

It was Sydney's biggest win, the Phoenix's heaviest defeat and a shock result, given Sydney had been sitting just a point above the last-placed Phoenix.

Sydney's finishing was clinical, giving Paston no opportunity to make a save. Their marquee man, Alessandro Del Piero, has been a star on the world stage for close to two decades and you could see why.

His vision and passing ability was a joy to behold, but paled in comparison with his finishing. His four goals, including one from the penalty spot, were all expertly-taken, flying unerringly into the top corners of Paston's net.

But the result, and the Phoenix's performance, have to be a symptom of the directive to change the club's tried and true playing methods.

No matter what anyone says, Herbert and his players look a shadow of their former selves, unsure of how to play and what to say.

The end of the Terry Serepisos era was supposed to bring stability to the club. It was said the team would be able to concentrate entirely on football, safe in the knowledge that Welnix would unobtrusively take care of everything else.

By their own admission Welnix were business, not football, people.

They just wanted to keep the club afloat and in Wellington and leave the football to the experts.

Poor crowd figures caused a change to that policy and the club have been a confused entity ever since sexy football became a priority.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Herbert cast doubt on his future at the franchise by saying it was now in the owners' hands. Not long ago, his job looked one of the safest in professional coaching.

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The Phoenix host the Newcastle Jets on Sunday and there will no doubt be an emphatic on-the-park response to what occurred in Sydney. That's just in Herbert's and the team's nature.

But their ability to do that would be greatly enhanced by having their owners publicly concede that a mid-season change of tack has only served to undermine everybody's confidence.

- The Dominion Post

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