Unlike his coach, Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante is refusing to give up on the unlikely prospect of finals football.
But the former A-League champion is not hiding from the limp nature of Saturday's 5-0 loss to the Newcastle Jets, which leaves the Phoenix stranded in eighth place with three games to play, four points off the playoff pace.
"I think after that game, if we dish up performances like that, we don't deserve to be in the finals," Durante said upon return to Wellington yesterday.
"That's pretty much what was said last night at the end of the game. If we want to perform like that, then we're kidding ourselves if we want to be in the finals. Finals is going to be very difficult for us at the moment but it is realistic. We still can get there, we need three wins, pretty much, and we'll see how we go."
The Phoenix have not had a lot of luck this season, with seven players missing through injury on Saturday as well as suspended defender Ben Sigmund.
But they have been a mystery to follow - with the meek capitulation in Newcastle in stark contrast to the previous spirited draw with 10 men against Melbourne Heart.
Durante was at a loss to explain the Jekyll and Hyde performances.
"We trained really well and there was no signs of being flat or not having a good attitude. So it was a bit strange. Our track record is pretty good there and I just think maybe it comes down to a lot of inexperience. All these injuries have probably taken a bit of a toll on the squad and it's almost a makeshift lineup at times.
"It's made it extremely difficult for us to be consistent."
Most damning were the simple defensive breakdowns and missed assignments as Adam Taggart rocketed to the Golden Boot lead with a brace, the much maligned Emile Heskey scored his first goal of the season, and Joel Griffiths and Michael Bridges completed the rout.
"I was livid at the end of the game," Durante said.
"You can't hide emotion sometimes and I spoke to the boys after the game in the changing room, and we weren't happy with what was dished out. There's individual mistakes, there's team mistakes but as a whole, as a team we weren't good enough. We didn't show up, we didn't compete, they outmuscled us and were more desperate for it."
Ominously, the Phoenix host a talented Adelaide United side on Sunday, with the Reds riding high off the back of Friday's 3-1 defeat of Sydney FC.
The return of Sigmund will at least add some fire and brimstone but there is nowhere else for Ernie Merrick to turn, as Carlos Hernandez continues to struggle with a calf injury, and Albert Riera (groin), Louis Fenton (shoulder) and Paul Ifill (Achilles) are done for the season.
"I think any squad would miss players of that quality," Durante said.
"And then you throw in some really good, talented young boys - Matt Ridenton is only 18, Shaun [Timmins] who's just come from Team Wellington and hasn't had any A-League experience, Roy Krishna's the same. They're going to be great players but it's really hard to be consistent and competitive every week with youngsters like that."
- The Dominion Post
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