Wellington Phoenix season now falling into place

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 30/12/2013
Andrew Durante
LOOKING UP: Phoenix captain Andrew Durante believes his team is finally hitting its straps.

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Captain Andrew Durante believes the Phoenix have ''turned a corner'' after consecutive wins for the first time in almost two years.

Friday's 1-0 defeat of Melbourne Heart, following the same result and scoreline against Sydney FC, was the first time the Phoenix had recorded back-to-back wins since March 2012.

Of course it is far too early to start doing cartwheels.

The Phoenix are ninth after 12 of 27 rounds and six points off the playoff pace.

But, after playing well without reward for much of the season, finally a little luck is starting to fall their way.

Wednesday's visit to second-placed Western Sydney will be an acid test but the Phoenix are starting to find a balance between playing pretty and grinding out results.

''We've always said we felt that we were on the right path and we're playing the right brand of football,'' said Durante, as the Phoenix enjoyed a day off at Sydney's Coogee Beach yesterday.

''The two wins are probably not our best performances but we were desperate for points and that's two clean sheets in a row. That has been our Achilles heel earlier in the season, conceding easy goals. We've been a lot more solid over the last two weeks. We've kind of turned a corner in the fact that we understand what it takes to win now. We need to be a lot more resilient, especially in defence, if we're going to continue to win games.''

Fullback Josh Brindell-South and midfielder Matthew Ridenton joined the squad yesterday as cover for Louis Fenton, Carlos Hernandez and Stein Huysegems, whose goals have given the Phoenix their two wins.

Fenton dislocated his right shoulder at AAMI Park but hopes to play against the Wanderers at Pirtek Stadium.

The right back dislocated his shoulder in a pre-season game in September and missed the first three games of the season.

''He seems to think he'll be alright but obviously the medical staff will assess him over the next couple of days,'' Durante said.

''He said it just popped out but popped back in straight away. He said it was a little bit uncomfortable but I don't think he's done any more major damage or anything. I think he'll have that issue for a while, that it may pop out. But he seems to think he'll be alright anyway.''

Hernandez is still managing a troublesome quad injury while the hard-working Huysegems is experiencing hamstring tightness.

Coach Ernie Merrick will be keen to retain his winning line-up, though the out-of-sorts Jeremy Brockie may be under pressure from impressive substitute Tyler Boyd, who laid on the assist for Huysegems on Friday.

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But Boyd is yet to score an A-League goal and the 18-year-old is probably best suited to an impact role at this stage of his career.

Brockie - second in last season's golden boot - hasn't scored since round four and again missed some good opportunities against the Heart.

''Brocks is obviously going through a tough time and no matter what game you watch, there seems to be people missing sitters which is making him feel a little bit better,'' Durante said.

''He's obviously a little bit low on confidence but his general play, I think, has been great for us. Tyler was brilliant and he's got huge talent, I think he's a fantastic player. A few times he's come on and Ernie's wanted him to get in behind and he's come to feet. That's not what the instructions were and he's been sat out a couple of times during the year. But if he follows instructions he can be a huge impact player for us this year.''

A gracious Merrick said the Heart were the better team on Friday and they certainly had enough good chances to take the three points.

The Phoenix played a high defensive line and that was successful in pressuring the Heart and allowing them to dictate the midfield.

But it also left them vulnerable to pace and counter-attack.

Durante said the reward outweighed the risk but they would not repeat the tactic every week, and not against potent teams like Melbourne Victory.

''It's obviously a little more risky than playing deeper but it allows us to play front half football a lot more and that's where Ernie wants us to really dominate the game, in the opposition's half. Heart got in behind a couple of times but Mossy's [goalkeeper Glen Moss] job now is to stay off his line a bit more and play as a sweeper, which he's done really well a few times. We still need to perfect it quite a bit more, but I think it's definitely the right gameplan and we'll get better and better at it each week.''

The Wanderers drew 1-1 with the Victory on Saturday after Melbourne midfielder Gui Finkler scored from a last-minute free kick.

Durante was hugely impressed by the Wanderers, who rested key trio Shinji Ono, Aaron Mooy and Tomi Juric and are all likely to return on Wednesday.

But there were nasty scenes before the match as rival supporters brawled at a Melbourne hotel.

At least four people were injured in the scuffles as metal bars, sticks and chairs were used as weapons.

Meanwhile, the Heart sacked coach John Aloisi yesterday after the loss to the Phoenix left them with no wins and four draws from 12 games.

Aloisi was 18 months into a three-year deal.

'''I addressed the players earlier today and told them we've all got some blood on our hands,'' said Heart chairman Peter Sidwell.

Heart technical director John van't Schip - who guided the Heart to the A-League finals in 2011-12 - has been appointed interim coach.

- The Dominion Post

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