Soccer: Phoenix to kick off playoffs under Friday night lights

The Phoenix will kick off their A-League playoffs next Friday night. Photo / Getty Images.
The Phoenix will kick off their A-League playoffs next Friday night. Photo / Getty Images.

The Wellington Phoenix will kick off the A-League playoffs next Friday night, and coach Ricki Herbert is forecasting a spectacular evening.

With their final regular season game against Central Coast still to be played on Sunday, the Phoenix will finish no lower than fourth and are guaranteed a home finals match. The opposition are as yet unknown but Herbert said the occasion would be worth savouring no matter who they play.

"Night games under lights are fantastic, especially when there is a big crowd," he said. "Anyone who was at the All Whites' World Cup qualifier against Bahrain will testify to that fact, and I'm looking forward to a good turnout of fans in the finals, whoever our opponents are."

The game will mark the Phoenix's first home playoff match since their run to within one win of the grand final in 2010, when two home games attracted record crowds.

"The last time we played at home in the finals around 60,000 fans watched our matches against Perth and Newcastle and will tell you what thrillers they were," Herbert said. "There is nothing quite like finals football and I can't wait for it to start."

There remains the possibility the Phoenix can again secure back-to-back finals matches, depending on how results transpire in the final weekend. They are level on points and goal difference with third-placed Perth - who play Melbourne Victory on Saturday night - going into the last round of fixtures, meaning a win could lift the Phoenix into third spot.

That win will be difficult to come by, considering Central Coast need a victory of their own to clinch the minor premiership, but the value of hosting two playoff games in Westpac Stadium cannot be understated.

With their final position yet to be locked in, and three teams competing for the last two playoff spots, it's impossible to predict the Phoenix's opponents in round one. Just one point separates Melbourne Heart, Newcastle and Sydney heading into the final weekend, with the Jets' visit to Sydney sure to be a blockbuster.

But before they have to worry about facing one of those teams, the Phoenix will be looking to close out the regular season on a high against the league-leading Mariners on Sunday.

With both teams looking for a victory to boost their playoff prospects, Phoenix captain Andre Durante was looking forward to the clash.

"We will still have a chance of taking third spot on the ladder and can also have a say in who wins the premier plate," he said. "A-League games don't come any bigger than this."

Another reason Durante was eagerly anticipating the match is because it marks his 100th for the club, a figure he found hard to believe.

"To play 100 games for a club is a great honour and to be captain as well makes it even more special. I didn't know what to expect when I arrived but I have loved Wellington. I arrived on a two-year contract and had no plans to stay longer than that but the place, and the group at the club, grew on me."

It's a milestone Durante was proud of, but he had his eyes on a bigger prize.

"It is great being in the semis but we want to be a grand finalist," he said. "We can't get sucked in by what we have achieved so far. We need to put in a good performance against the Mariners to get us in the right frame of mind for the playoffs."

- APNZ

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