The Wellington Phoenix have been given a boost ahead of today's crucial A-League clash against Perth Glory, with Costa Rican stars Carlos Hernandez and Kenny Cunningham likely to play.
Hernandez (calf) and Cunningham (foot) have been in doubt throughout the week, but both trained yesterday at Westpac Stadium and are set to retain their places in the squad.
"It was Kenny's first 11 v 11 hitout, for 15-20 minutes, and Carlos has hardly done any work this week but he got through it all right," said coach Ernie Merrick.
"I won't make a call on Kenny and Carlos until I see how they are [today]. But the impression is good. Unless Kenny is bothered by his foot, or Carlos his calf, then it's looking quite good."
The presence of the in-form Costa Ricans will be crucial for a side already missing the injured Paul Ifill, Albert Riera, Louis Fenton and Reece Caira, while senior midfielder Manny Muscat is suspended for today's match.
Merrick's preparations have also been disrupted by international duty, with All Whites Glen Moss, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Michael Boxall, Tyler Boyd and Jeremy Brockie returning from Japan only on Friday. All are expected to play.
"The boys who came back from Japan aren't looking tired, they're looking quite good so I've got a pretty full squad to select from," Merrick said. "What's very noticeable about this team is there's always great team spirit and nothing really gets them down."
Despite the messy week, the Phoenix need to dispatch last-placed Perth if they are serious about qualifying for the top six.
Wellington's form has been wildly inconsistent over the last month, with road wins over Newcastle and Central Coast marred by five-goal losses to Melbourne Heart and Adelaide.
Merrick challenged his players to be mentally stronger today. "We need to take the game to Perth. Our attitude was poor when the goals went in at Adelaide."
Josh Brindell-South will replace Caira at left back and Matthew Ridenton comes in for Muscat in midfield.
Despite the Glory's struggles, the Phoenix are yet to beat them this season, drawing 1-1 in Christchurch and losing 4-2 in Western Australia. "Anyone can take points off anyone," Merrick said.
"We expect a team with their back to the wall to come out fighting. But the result will look after itself if we play our football. We expect Sidnei [Sciola Moraes] and Shane Smeltz, if he plays, to be a handful but we have to work together and not expose our back four and goalkeeper the way we did."
Perth's former French international William Gallas is set to make his first appearance in Wellington.
- Sunday Star Times
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