Mixed messages on the sidelines over the past week reflect the Phoenix's style of play in recent times but Ricki Herbert's team need to be clear about their tactics for today's A-League wooden spoon battle with the Perth Glory at Eden Park.
With some probing from the front office, the Phoenix embarked on a mid-season attempt to play "more attractive" football but fell to four consecutive losses including a 7-1 hiding in Sydney.
Last weekend they returned to their more direct play and gained a much-needed point against Newcastle.
In the leadup to today's clash, skipper Andrew Durante suggested the players had "got together" and decided they needed to start winning games and compromise on style to get results.
Yesterday Herbert labelled that "incorrect".
"I think a lot of things have been taken out of context. Players want to win football games and that's where you get the balance right. Across the board sometimes it can look different," Herbert said.
A few minutes later Leo Bertos said: "We started off [the season] so well and made a few changes and tried a few different things and it sort of came back to bite us on the butt a wee bit.
"We tried to change a little bit of style to how we played and obviously results weren't coming that way.
"So back to the drawing board, back to what was working and hopefully we can get back to that pretty quickly and back to our winning ways again."
Clearly it's a touchy subject at a club under pressure. But right now the Phoenix need substance, not style, in their late bid to reach the playoffs.
Herbert will continue to teach the "beautiful game" at training in a transition that is clearly going to take time.
But even he seems prepared to concede that desperate times require desperate actions.
"It's about the players playing well, the team performing and getting results," Herbert said yesterday as the Phoenix wrapped up training at Eden Park.
Herbert is keeping his lineup close to his chest but did reveal that new signing Isaka Cernak will start in a bid to bolster the side's attack through the midfield.
"He will start. We brought him to the club to play. . . he's a decent player," Herbert said, with Dani Sanchez making way for the Melbourne Heart recruit.
Just four points off the playoffs pace, the Phoenix remain a real possibility and knocking over fellow strugglers Perth who have lost six of their eight away matches would be a double whammy.
"There are still 27 points up for grabs, that's a lot. A decent run now . . . three points here would be a massive boost for us," Herbert said.
- The Dominion Post
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