Wellington Phoenix have plenty to play for
It is not only the Wellington Phoenix's faint finals hopes going on the line over the next eight days.
Some off-contract club stalwarts are also playing for their futures, while coach Ricki Herbert needs to claw his way off the bottom of the A-League ladder if he is to have any ammunition going into his end-of-season review.
In a hectic eight-day stretch, the Phoenix host Adelaide United tomorrow, Newcastle Jets on Wednesday and Melbourne Heart in Dunedin next Sunday.
Off-contract at the end of the season are Tony Lochhead, Leo Bertos, Mark Paston, Dani Sanchez, Alex Smith, Ian Hogg, Isaka Cernak and Jimmy Downey, Corey Gameiro on loan from Fulham will soon be a free agent.
"There's points on the table, there's fans to go out and play for, and some of them haven't had contracts re-signed yet," Herbert said.
"So I think there's a bit on it for them."
Phoenix captain Andrew Durante's deal runs through to 2014-15 but he said he would have no input in player retention.
"I've got no say in that and if they keep most of the players, great. If they think it's time for them to move on, then so be it," Durante said. "Players come and go all the time at football clubs. It's just part and parcel of how it is and we'll see what happens at the end of the year."
Despite the miserable season which has netted just five wins from 21 games, Durante said the off-contract players all wanted to stay in Wellington.
"There's no question about that. Which is a good thing and yeah, I guess they are playing for their futures. A lot of them have families and wives and stuff and it's a tough time. Contract time is always a difficult time and the sooner they get sorted, probably the better for everyone."
Herbert will wait until after today's training session to pick a team for Adelaide in a bid to keep players on their toes.
But leading scorer and new dad Jeremy Brockie will make a much-needed return from suspension given the Phoenix's struggles in front of goal.
Isaka Cernak (hip flexor) is unlikely to be available while Paston missed yesterday's training with the flu but is expected to take his place on the bench.
Durante reckoned a minimum of seven points were required from the three home games if they were serious about making a playoff run.
He admitted that the team's morale had "started to fray a little bit" as the losses piled up but the squad remained "a close group."
The challenge of turning things around was more mental than technical, tactical or physical, Durante believed.
"It's all about motivation and we're at the stage where it's not really ability that's getting us into trouble. It's more of a mental thing. And that's a really hard thing to imprint on people's behaviours, the mental side of it. You can teach them all the skills and drills you want but mentally it's almost up to the individual, to see how they react. I think that's been probably the major issue this year."
Adelaide has also had a rollercoaster season, with coach John Kosmina resigning last month because of a lack of trust in the way the club was being run, yet the South Australians still sit fourth and boast real quality in Dario Vidosic, Marcelo Carrusca, Jon McKain and Eugene Galekovic.
But they have gone six away games without a win so the Phoenix start slight favourites.
What: A-League, week 22
Where: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
When: 4.30pm tomorrow
TV: Live on Sky Sport 3
Referee: Tim McGilchrist
TAB odds: Phoenix $2.40, Adelaide $2.80, Draw $3.25
Phoenix (from): Glen Moss, Tony Lochhead, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Louis Fenton, Paul Ifill, Jeremy Brockie, Corey Gameiro, Mark Paston, Dani Sanchez, Tyler Boyd, Stein Huysegems, Benjamin Totori, Isaka Cernak
Adelaide (from): Eugene Galekovic, Cassio, Nigel Boogaard, Antony Golec, Daniel Bowles, Jon McKain, Osama Malik, Marcelo Carrusca, Iain Ramsay, Dario Vidosic, Jeronimo Neumann, Paul Izzo, Cameron Watson, Fabian Barbiero, Tomi Juric, Evan Kostopoulos, Awer Mabil
The Dominion Post