Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Soccer: Herbert confident looking ahead

Ricki Herbert coach of the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images
Ricki Herbert coach of the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images

Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert isn't ruling out his side's chances of finishing second on the ladder with three weeks to go in the A-League.

Herbert's men registered one of the more forgettable 2-0 victories over Gold Coast United at Westpac Stadium today, in a game that was strange for a number of reasons.

Aside from the countless chances the Phoenix butchered during the 90 minutes and then some, there was the backdrop of the turmoil that Gold Coast are in.

On Wednesday, Football Federation Australia stripped Gold Coast owner Clive Palmer of his licence and there was speculation that the game could be postponed.

But, it did go ahead and Andrew Durante's 29th-minute tap in put the Phoenix ahead before Nicky Ward came from the pine to double their lead in stoppage time.

The result put the Phoenix in to third place, on 39 league points, and they trail the Brisbane Road by only three points with three games left.

"Who knows, maybe second's possible," Herbert suggested. "But you could easily finished sixth as well."

Herbert's comments reflect the tight nature of the league, with the sixth-placed Newcastle Jets only four points back.

Wellington head to Melbourne this week for a game against the Heart on Saturday night and they follow that up with a match-up against the Victory the following Friday, also in Melbourne.

It'll be a busy week for the Phoenix, who round out their season on March 25 when Central Coast come to Wellington, but Herbert said the side would leave with plenty of belief in their suitcases.

"It's in our hands, obviously. I just think it's great. I think you can go back and we are third on the ladder with three games to go and that's a massive sort of effort by these guys to get it there.

"It's a tough run in, a lot of teams have got tough runs in, but we have probably given ourselves that little bit of a buffer. But we go to Melbourne and we have won four of our last five away games.

"We come off a good result today, which could've been different, I think we go there very confident and put our best foot forward, again. I don't see any reason why we can't get some points on the road against both Melbourne sides," said Herbert.

Finishing inside the top four is a must for the Phoenix who would secure a vital home playoff game rather than be forced to play across the Tasman.

Gold Coast United skipper Michael Thwaite said his young side - providing they're in the league next season - could learn a lot from the Phoenix.

"I think that's something we need to look at as well. We need to learn what suits us because at the moment they don't play the prettiest football," Thwaite said.

"But they create a hell of a lot of chances and they play a certain way that suits the players that they have, whether that's winning second balls, pressurising high or waiting for turnover and counter-attacking. They play a real strong game and we can take something from the Phoenix. Just with 50-50 tackles and they work as a team together."

Wellington Phoenix 2 (Andrew Durante 29', Nicky Ward 90+3') Gold Coast United 0 HT: 1-0

- APNZ

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