Wellington Phoenix cling to playoff hopes

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 27/01/2013

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For now, this is the worst week Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante can recall in his five years with the A-League club.

The hope is that, in years to come, it might come to be remembered as the seven days in which the franchise hit rock-bottom and successfully hauled themselves back up.

A record 7-1 loss to Sydney FC and a regrettable series of public relations' gaffes from part-owner Gareth Morgan have brought embarrassment to everyone at the Phoenix. But few teams cope with, and in fact welcome, adversity better than the Phoenix, and despite being last on the ladder, they still think a playoffs berth is attainable.

"Absolutely. It's a competition where you can get a couple of wins in a row and you're back up there," Durante said.

"We're four points out of the top six and as bad as we've been this year, we're only four points out of the six, which I guess is the beauty of a six-team playoff in a 10-team competition, that you've always got a chance." The Phoenix host the Newcastle Jets at Westpac Stadium this afternoon, a team they've always had a happy knack of beating.

Today is one of 10 matches the Phoenix have between now and the end of the season, and that's more than enough to earn a fourth-straight playoffs appearance, in coach Ricki Herbert's view.

"We're not letting go [we're] absolutely determined to make the playoffs," he said.

Herbert looked a helpless bystander, rather than coach, as the Phoenix haemorrhaged goals against Sydney. Some blamed the team's lacklustre performance on the confusion caused by part-owner Morgan's assertion that the side divert to playing sexy football.

Herbert wasn't being drawn on any of the comments Morgan has made lately and was a bit cryptic about the sort of football fans could expect to see from the Phoenix today.

"Oh look, a real heart on the sleeve. That goes with any brand, doesn't it? Whether you want to be Stoke City, whether you want to be Joe Bloggs, I think at the end of the day it's about performing. I think that's the most important thing," he said.

"I think individually, and as a team, we haven't been performing where we need to be and that needs to be better. That's what we're looking for." Louis Fenton looks set to start in midfield, alongside Manny Muscat, who returns from suspension. Key striker Paul Ifill should be in the run-on side, while new midfield signing Isaka Cernak, who was acquired from the Melbourne Victory, could play some part.

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