Phoenix expected to bounce back against Glory
With six games left until the A-League finals it is a little early to start talking ''must-wins.''
But tomorrow's home match against Perth Glory comes close to that category for the Wellington Phoenix.
Last week's 5-1 loss to Adelaide United left them stuck in seventh place but a visit from the last-placed Glory represents the perfect opportunity to return to the winner's circle.
Perth have endured a tumultuous season, with Kenny Lowe replacing Alistair Edwards mid-campaign following a player-led revolt.
The Phoenix have only ever lost one game to Perth at home, with six wins and four draws underlining the difficulties of one of world football's most arduous road trips.
The travel factor has been balanced out, however, by the fact that All Whites Glen Moss, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Michael Boxall, Tyler Boyd and Jeremy Brockie only arrived back in Wellington yesterday following the 4-2 mid-week loss to Japan in Tokyo.
Josh Brindell-South is expected to replace the injured Reece Caira at left back, while Matthew Ridenton is the obvious replacement for the suspended Manny Muscat in midfield.
Both teams have big guns under injury clouds, with Carlos Hernandez (calf), Kenny Cunningham (foot) and Perth's Shane Smeltz (groin) in doubt.
The Phoenix are keen to keep Perth guessing and the players had a day off yesterday.
But Cunningham trained on Thursday, while Hernandez spent some time on the exercise bike.
''The two major areas that we've been having problems with through injuries and suspension are stabilising our midfield, who's going to play defensive midfield, and who's either side,'' said Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick.
''And the fullback role, we've played five players this year with Reece Caira, who's now out through injury, Leo Bertos played there, Michael Boxall, Manny Muscat, Louis Fenton, and out of those five players there's only one available to play at right back [Boxall].
''But Josh Brindell-South has been playing really well so Josh is likely to get a start ... On the positive side, Matthew Ridenton when he came on [against Adelaide] had a very good game. I wouldn't say he was outstanding but he had a very good game.
''And Brindell-South, every time he's come on he's done a good job for us. So it's about time these younger players come on and maybe even start.''
Merrick said the absence of the All Whites from training this week would be no excuse for a poor performance tomorrow.
''We manage. I knew about the travelling and the commitments for the national team when I took on this job and it hasn't been a problem for us.''
Last season Perth snuck into the top-six finals with 32 points.
The Phoenix are sitting on 26 with games against Melbourne Heart (away), Newcastle Jets (away), Adelaide United (home), Sydney FC (away) and Melbourne Victory (home) to follow.
''We not only have to win games, we have to win consistently,'' Merrick said.
''We generally discuss that on a monthly basis, where we are and how we're going to approach the next few games. And to their credit we've got a tremendous bunch of leaders.''
Phoenix (from): Glen Moss, Josh Brindell-South, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Michael Boxall, Vince Lia, Matthew Ridenton, Carlos Hernandez, Kenny Cunningham, Tyler Boyd, Stein Huysegems, Lewis Italiano, Shaun Timmins, Jason Hicks, Jeremy Brockie, Roy Krishna, Leo Bertos, Hamish Watson
Perth (from): Jack Duncan, Jack Clisby, Michael Thwaite, William Gallas, Josh Risdon, Jacob Burns, Rostyn Griffiths, Nebojsa Marinkovic, Chris Harold, Sidnei, Shane Smeltz, Luke Radonich, Steven McGarry, Danny De Silva, Jamie Maclaren, Darvydas Sernas, Brandon O'Neill, Matthew Davies
The Dominion Post