Soccer: Phoenix win Aussie admirers

By Terry Maddaford

Chris Greenacre of the Phoenix celebrates scoring a goal during the match against the Melbourne Victory. Photo / Getty Images
Chris Greenacre of the Phoenix celebrates scoring a goal during the match against the Melbourne Victory. Photo / Getty Images

Not only are the results falling in favour of the Wellington Phoenix, fans across the Tasman are getting behind the team from the Capital.

A poll on the A-League website yesterday asked which team impressed fans the most in week 17.

The answer: a staggering 53 per cent in favour of Ricki Herbert's team - more than double those who opted for Perth Glory who beat Adelaide United 3-0 away in the last of the four weekend matches.

Even the injury news has been encouraging for Herbert, who feared the worst when a rejuvenated Leo Bertos was stretchered off with what was initially feared to be a broken leg after going down in a David Williams tackle. Now it appears it might be no worse than a rolled ankle.

"The doctor tells me he'll be okay," said a relieved Herbert. "So let's hope that tomorrow he is a little better - perhaps just a little bit of bruising."

The injury has come at an unfortunate time for Bertos who was back to his best against the Heart after a couple of low-key performances that resulted in him being relegated to the bench for the away wins against Gold Coast United and Newcastle Jets.

Bertos provided the pinpoint cross to set up Chris Greenacre's goal in the 54th minute after breaking clear of the Melbourne defence.

"I said to him at half-time 'is there any chance you can take the fullback on?"' joked Herbert. "It's great to see."

Captain Andrew Durante was ecstatic with his team's climb into second place - a spot they have never previously occupied. "It's nice," he said. "We've never been there before and especially this late in the season to be where we are. But we deserve to be there. We've worked so hard. We've got two away wins in the last couple of games and to come back and make it three in a row is outstanding.

"It's a great bunch of players. We deserve to be there. We've worked harder than any other team to be where we are."

Their remaining fixtures include trips to Adelaide, Central Coast, Sydney FC, the Heart, and Melbourne Victory. They host the Roar, Gold Coast, and runaway leaders Central Coast Mariners who had their scheduled trip to Gold Coast washed out.

"We would love to finish in the top two and have a crack at the grand final spot straight away," Durante said. "But we've got a tough road ahead. We've got a lot of away games now that are against good opponents. We'll take it game by game, as I always tend to say."

Herbert was delighted with the second-half performance that got his team home against the Heart.

"We got a little tentative after that good start but once we got the momentum going again in the second spell we were always going to win. The fans played their part today. They were brilliant."

Manny Muscat was a surprise starter for the Phoenix. He had been in Melbourne awaiting the birth of his first child but flew into Wellington only two hours before kick-off. He made a big contribution, not only in defence, but also with an assist for Ifill's second goal.

He flew back to Australia early yesterday, hopefully with his wife Rebecca still to give birth.

But while all in the Phoenix camp were happy, it was a different story for Melbourne Heart coach John van't Schip and his players.

The loss extended their run of games without a win to six, and only four points separates them from seventh-placed Newcastle Jets.

The Dutchman was disappointed by his players' lack of intensity and commitment against Wellington.

"It's disappointing that we lost in the way that we lost. You can lose a game but I think we just didn't play well enough.

"Credit to Wellington because they were far more aggressive. They had more will to really want to win the game. That showed on the pitch." It doesn't get any easier for the Heart, who host the Victory on Saturday.

The Phoenix open the round in Adelaide on Friday. In another key game, Central Coast are at home to Brisbane Roar on Saturday. A win for Central Coast could again do a favour for the Phoenix.

- NZ Herald

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