Stein Huysegems needs to step up for Phoenix

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2013
Stein Huysegems
Getty Images
CALLED INTO ACTION: Belgian striker Stein Huysegems.

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Belgian striker Stein Huysegems will be asked to replace Carlos Hernandez as the Phoenix playmaker in Perth tonight, a role the 31-year-old had fulfilled only "a couple of times in Holland."

Hernandez has been scrubbed out of the match with a quad injury, and coach Ernie Merrick said Huysegems was the next best equipped "No 10."

Since pre-season Merrick has earmarked Huysegems as Hernandez's back-up in the attacking midfield role at training.

"It doesn't really matter for me, if I play as a 10, a deep striker or on the left or the right," a relaxed Huysegems said.

"I think I can play most positions but you have to do your defensive job, of course, that's an important thing if you're playing 10 and demand the ball a lot of times in the midfield. Hopefully I can help the guys in the midfield and support the strikers also."

After four draws and three losses, the ninth-placed Phoenix are becoming increasingly desperate to post their first win under Merrick.

Apart from a horror half an hour against Melbourne Victory, the Phoenix feel they have competed well in all their games.

That is true, but the time for goals and wins has come if they are to achieve their aim of finals football.

While the trip to Perth is arduous, and the late kickoff challenging, the Phoenix do have grounds for optimism.

The seventh-placed Glory are ravaged by injury, including the loss of stars Shane Smeltz and William Gallas, while abrasive skipper Jacob Burns is suspended.

The Phoenix have been largely defensively sturdy this season, but a return of six goals in seven games clearly needs to improve.

Huysegems agreed that the players were becoming too tense in their bid to turn the tide.

"I think once we get the win on the board, everybody on the field is going to play a little bit more relaxed, have a good feeling and hopefully score a lot of goals," he said.

"Especially when you come in the last third of the pitch, you have to keep your head up high and see if there is an extra player free, that maybe is in a better position."

The Phoenix have already drawn 1-1 with Perth in Christchurch this season.

The Glory fielded a 3-5-2 formation is last round's loss to Brisbane Roar but it seems unlikely they will try the same system again.

Even without the skilful Hernandez, Merrick said the Phoenix were determined to continue playing possession-based football.

Despite his inexperience in that position, Huysegems does have a good first touch and ability to retain the ball under pressure.

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"We're putting ourselves under pressure to continue to play that style of football and that brand of football," Merrick said.

"If we weren't creating so many chances then there would be some concerns but the spirit's good, the attacking play is good, we've got the midfielders to keep possession and we're putting ourselves under pressure to win games and we'll be in the finals this year."

Midfielder Albert Riera will undergo a fitness test on his lower abdominal/groin injury today.

If he is ruled out, then schoolboy Matthew Ridenton is poised to make his professional debut off the bench.

Reece Caira will replace the suspended Manny Muscat at left back.

- Fairfax Media

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