Ricki Herbert wary of Brisbane backlash
You get the feeling that if Ricki Herbert could field 11 Ben Sigmund's tonight he would.
The Wellington Phoenix coach faces a monumental test of his tactical nous at Suncorp Stadium in an attempt to stifle defending champions Brisbane Roar, who this season have extended their remarkable run to 33 A-League games without defeat.
The undermanned Phoenix, rebuilding under their new owners, have had a rather less enviable streak of three straight losses.
While the first two were at least respectable performances, it was no coincidence that the flat 2-1 loss to the Central Coast Mariners saw the suspended Sigmund watching on helplessly from the stands.
The All White returns to partner Andrew Durante in central defence tonight and Herbert urged the rest of his players to follow Sigmund's heart-on-sleeve example.
"His uncompromising passion for the club and the team is brilliant," he said. "You have to say they're [Brisbane] the benchmark – far better than anybody's ever done in the league.
"Comfortable winners last year and certainly well ahead early in this season."
While there is no easy time to play Brisbane, the Phoenix are expecting a backlash from Ange Postecoglu's men after they were held to a 2-2 draw by nine-man Melbourne Victory.
"I think they'll be incredibly disappointed not getting three points off Melbourne so I think they'll be really desperate and hungry," Herbert said. "On any other day I think Brisbane probably would have put half a dozen in the back of the net. They're a good attacking side.
"We go across there a little bit short again but I think we're certainly going to go across confident and positive. At some stage they're probably going to lose at home. It's a great challenge for us."
While Herbert sounded positive, the reality is that Brisbane will almost certainly control possession and the Phoenix's best shot is defending like demons and hoping the likes of Chris Greenacre or Tim Brown can nick a goal on the counterattack or from a set-piece.
There were plenty of doubters in the off-season after the Roar lost skipper Matt McKay, defender Luke DeVere and strikers Kosta Barbarouses and Jean Carlos Soloranzo.
But they haven't missed a beat and new Albanian striker Besart Berisha leads the golden boot race with six goals from five games.
If the Phoenix lose it will equal their worst streak of four successive defeats, set in October 2007.